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Title: Four Months Besieged - The Story of Ladysmith
Author: Pearse, H. H. S. (Henry Hiram Steere), 1844-1905
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: SIR GEORGE STEWART WHITE, V.C., G.C.S.I.

_From a Photograph by Window & Grove_]


Four Months Besieged

THE STORY OF LADYSMITH

BEING UNPUBLISHED LETTERS

FROM

H.H.S. PEARSE
THE 'DAILY NEWS' SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT


_WITH MAPS AND ILLUSTRATIONS FROM SKETCHES AND PHOTOGRAPHS MADE BY THE
AUTHOR_

London
MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
NEW YORK: THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
1900
_All rights reserved_



PREFACE


The siege of Ladysmith will long remain in the memories of the age. The
annals of war furnish the record of many fierce struggles, in which men
and women have undergone sufferings more terrible and possibly shown a
devotion rising to sublimer heights. But the Boer War of 1899-1900 will
mark an epoch, and throughout its opening stage of four months the minds
of men, and the hopes and fears of the whole British race, centred upon
the little town in mid-Natal where Sir George White with his army
maintained a valiant resistance against a strenuous and determined foe
without, and disease and hunger and death within, until, to use his own
words, that slow-moving giant John Bull should pass from his slumber and
bestir himself to take back his own. For that reason alone the story of
Ladysmith will remain memorable. But it is a story which is brilliant in
brave deeds, which tells of danger boldly faced, of noble self-sacrifice
to duty, in calm endurance of many and growing evils--a story worth the
telling. Yet so far it has been told only in the necessarily disjointed
telegrams and letters of the press correspondents in the town. Native
runners who were captured and otherwise went astray, and the ruthless
pencil of the censor, were accountable for many gaps. Two or three of
the letters contained in the following pages escaped these perils, and
were published in the columns of the _Daily News_. The rest of the book
now appears for the first time.

The volume consists of pages from the letters and diaries of Mr. Henry
H.S. Pearse, the Special Correspondent of the _Daily News_. Mr. Pearse
was in Natal when the war broke out, and he was in Ladysmith during the
whole of the siege. He was fortunate enough to enjoy good health
throughout, and though he had some narrow escapes he was never hit. His
letters contain a complete story of the siege.

_April 1900._



CONTENTS


CHAPTER I                                                         PAGE

INTRODUCTORY

The declaration of war--Sir George White and the defence of
Natal--The force at Glencoe--Battle of Talana Hill--General
Yule's retirement--Battle of Elandslaagte--Useless victories--
The enemy's continued advance                                        1


CHAPTER II

LOMBARD'S KOP AND NICHOLSON'S NEK

General White forced to fight--The order of battle--Leviathan--
The Boers reinforced--A retrograde movement--How Marsden met his
death--Naval guns in action--A night of disaster--Who showed the
white flag?--A truce declared--A humiliating position                5


CHAPTER III

LADYSMITH INVESTED

The exodus of the townsfolk--Communications threatened--Slim
Piet Joubert--Espionage in the town--Neglected precautions--A
truce that paid--British positions described--Big guns face to
face--Boers hold the railways--French's reconnaissance--The
General's flitting--A gauntlet of fire--An interrupted telegram--
Death of Lieutenant Egerton--"My cricketing days are over"--Under
the enemy's guns--"A shell in my room"--Colonials in action--The
sacrifice of valuable lives                                         15


CHAPTER IV

EARLY DAYS OF THE SIEGE

Moral effects of shell fire--General White appeals to Joubert--
The neutral camp--Attitude of civilians--Meeting at the Town
Hall--A veteran's protest--Faith in the Union Jack--An impressive
scene--Removal of sick and wounded--Through the Boer lines--How
the posts were manned--Enemy mounting big guns--More about the
spies--Boer war ethics--In an English garden--Throwing up
defences--A gentlemanly monster--The Troglodytes--Humorous and
pathetic--"Long Tom" and "Lady Anne"--Links in the chain of fire--
A round game of ordnance                                            30


CHAPTER V

THE FIRST BOER ASSAULT

Joubert's boast--The preliminaries of attack--Shells in the town--
A simultaneous advance--Observation Hill threatened--A wary
enemy--A prompt repulse--Attack on Tunnel Hill--The colour-sergeant's
last words--Manchesters under fire--Prone behind boulders--A Royal
salute--The Prince of Wales's birthday--Stretching the Geneva
Convention--The redoubtable Miss Maggie--The Boer Foreign Legion--
Renegade Irishmen--A signal failure                                 58


CHAPTER VI

A MONTH UNDER SHELL FIRE

The first siege-baby--An Irish-American deserter--A soldierly
grumble--Boer cunning and Staff-College strategy--An ammunition
difficulty--The tireless cavalry--A white flag incident--What
the Boer Commandant understood--The Natal summer--Mere sound
and fury--Boer Sabbatarianism--Naval guns at work--"Puffing
Billy" of Bulwaan--Intrepid Boer gunners--The barking of
"Pom-Poms"--Another reconnaissance--"Like scattered bands of Red
Indians"--A futile endeavour--A night alarm--Recommended for the
V.C.--A man of straw in khaki--The Boer search-light--Shelling
of the hospital--General White protests--The first woman hit--
General Hunter's bravado--"Long Tom" knocked out--A gymkhana
under fire--Faith, Hope, and Charity--Flash signals from the
south--A new Creusot gun                                            69


CHAPTER VII

THE SORTIES OF DECEMBER

Retribution--Sir Archibald Hunter's bold scheme--A night attack--
Silently through the darkness--At the foot of Gun Hill--A broken
ascent--"Wie kom dar?" "The English are on us!"--Major Henderson
thrice wounded--Destroying "Leviathan"--Hussars suffer under
fire--Rejoicings in town--Sir George White's address to the
troops--Boer compliments--A raid for provender--A second sortie--
The Rifles' bold enterprise--An unwelcome light--Cutting the
wires--Surprise Hill reached--The sentry's challenge--Rifles'
charge with the bayonet--Boer howitzer destroyed--The return to
camp--Cutting the way home--Serious losses                         103


CHAPTER VIII

AFTER COLENSO

The Town-Guard called out--Echoes of Colenso--Heliograms from
Buller--The Boers and Dingaan's Day--Disappointing news--Special
correspondents summoned--Victims of the bombardment--Shaving
under shell fire--Tea with Lord Ava--Boer humour: "Where is
Buller?"--Sir George White's narrow escape--A disastrous shot--
Fiftieth day of the siege--Grave and gay--"What does England
think of us?"--Stoical artillerymen--The moral courage of
caution--How Doctor Stark was killed--Serious thoughts--Gordons
at play--Boers watch the match--A story by the way--"My name is
Viljoen"--How Major King won his liberty--A tribute to Boer
hospitality--"We rely on your Generals"--General White and
Schalk-Burger--A coward chastised--"Sticking it out"               128


CHAPTER IX

A CHRISTMAS UNDER SIEGE

Husbanding supplies--Colonel Ward's fine work--Our Christmas
market--A scanty show--Some startling prices--A word to cynics--
The compounding of plum-puddings--The strict rules of
temperance--Boer greetings "per shell"--A lady's narrow escape--
Correspondents provide sport--"Ginger" and the mules--The sick
and wounded--Some kindly gifts--Christmas tree for the children--
Sir George White and the little ones--"When the war is over"--Some
empty rumours--A fickle climate--Eight officers killed and
wounded--More messages from Buller--Booming the old year out       155


CHAPTER X

THE GREAT ASSAULT

Why the Boers attacked--Interesting versions--A general surprise--
Joubert's promise--Boer tactics reconsidered--Erroneous estimates--
Under cover of night--A bare-footed advance--The Manchesters
surprised--The fight on Waggon Hill--In praise of the Imperial
Light Horse--A glorious band--The big guns speak--Lord Ava falls--
Gordons and Rifles to the rescue--A perilous position--The death of
a hero--A momentary panic--Man to man--A gallant enemy--Burghers
who fell fighting--The storming of Cæsar's Camp--Shadowy forms in
the darkness--An officer captured--"Maak Vecht!"--Abdy's guns in
play--"Well done, gunners!"--Taking water to the wounded--
Dick-Cunyngham struck down--Some anxious moments--The Devons charge
home--A day well won                                               180


CHAPTER XI

WATCHING FOR BULLER

Sir Redvers Buller's second attempt--A message from the Queen--Last
sad farewells--Burial of Steevens and Lord Ava--At dead of night--
Relief army north of the Tugela--Water difficulties surmised--A
look in at Bulwaan--Spion Kop from afar--What the watchers saw--
The Boers trekking--Buller withdraws--The "key" thrown away--
Good-bye to luxuries--Precautions against disease--"Chevril"--The
damming of the Klip--Horseflesh unabashed--One touch of pathos--
Vague memories of home--Sweet music from the south--Buller tries
again--Disillusionment--The last pipe of tobacco                   209


CHAPTER XII

AFTER ONE HUNDRED DAYS

Boer pæan of victory--Rations cut down--Sausage without mystery--
The "helio" moves east--Sick and dying at Intombi--Famine prices
at market--Laughter quits the camps--A kindly thing by the enemy--
Good news at last--Heroes in tatters--The distant tide of battle--
Pulse-like throb of rifles--Two sons for the Empire--British
infantry on Monte Cristo--Boer ambulances moving north--"'Ave you
'eard the noos?"--Rations increased--Bulwaan strikes his tents--
"With a rifle and a red cross"--Buller "going strong"--Cronje's
surrender--A sorry celebration--"A beaten army in full retreat"--
"Puffing Billy" dismantled--General Buller's message--belief at
hand                                                               224


CHAPTER XIII

RELIEF AT LAST

The beginning of the end--Buller's last advance--Heroic
Inniskillings--The coming of Dundonald--A welcome at Klip River
Drift--A weather-stained horseman--The Natal troopers--Cheers
and tears--A grand old General--Sir George White's address--
"Thank God, we have kept the flag flying!"--"God save the Queen"--
Arrival of Buller--Looking backward--Within four days of
starvation--Horseflesh a mere memory--Eight hundred sick and
wounded--A word of tribute--Conclusion                             237



ILLUSTRATIONS


Sir George Stewart White, V.C., G.C.S.I. (from a
photograph by Window & Grove)                           _Frontispiece_

The Royal Hotel, Ladysmith (showing the ruins of
Mr. Pearse's bedroom wrecked by a shell from "Long
Tom," 3rd Nov. 1899)                                    _Face page 26_

A shell-proof resort (a culvert under a road used
as a living place by day for civilians, who returned
to their houses when the shelling ceased after sunset)              50

The British position at Ladysmith (looking north towards
Rietfontein and the Newcastle Road)                                 96

The British position at Ladysmith (looking nearly due south)       128

The British position at Ladysmith (looking south-east)             162

The British position at Ladysmith (looking eastward)               202



PLANS


Sketch-map of positions round Ladysmith, Nov. 1899      _Face page 60_

Siege of Ladysmith, after two months of bombardment                175

The environs of Ladysmith                                          180

Military map of Ladysmith                                _End of vol._



CHAPTER I

INTRODUCTORY

     The declaration of war--Sir George White and the defence of
     Natal--The force at Glencoe--Battle of Talana Hill--General Yule's
     retirement--Battle of Elandslaagte--Useless victories--Enemy's
     continued advance.


Before taking up the history of the siege proper it will be well here to
pass briefly in review the events which led up to the isolation and
investment of Ladysmith. When war was declared by the Government of the
Transvaal in its despatch of the 9th October 1899, it found Her
Majesty's Government in very great measure unprepared. A month earlier,
however, reinforcements of 10,000 troops had been ordered to Natal from
India and elsewhere, and the major part of these were already in the
Colony. General Sir George White, who had arrived at Durban on 7th
October, had strongly advocated the abandonment of the northern district
of Natal, but allowed himself to be overborne by the urgent
representations of Sir W.F. Hely-Hutchinson, who believed the withdrawal
would involve grave political results. Sir William Penn Symons believed
that the districts in question could be defended by a comparatively
small force, and he was allowed to make the experiment. At that time
there were with him at Glencoe three battalions of infantry, a brigade
division of the Royal Artillery, the 18th Hussars, and a small body of
mounted infantry. The enemy crossed the borders immediately upon the
expiry of the term stipulated in the ultimatum, and on the 20th October
was fought the battle of Talana Hill.

This first battle of the campaign demonstrated at once the soundness of
Sir George White's views. General Symons's little army worthily
maintained the military traditions of their race, and in the face of a
terrible fire from modern rifles, in the hands of the stubbornest of
foes, rushed the enemy's position and swept him from the heights. But
victory demanded heavy toll. The gallant commander nobly expiated the
mistaken judgment which had led him so seriously to underrate the
strength of the invaders, and nearly forty officers killed, wounded, and
taken prisoners, figured on a list of about 430 casualties. So heavy a
price was paid for a brief success and the knowledge that the enemy was
too strong to make it safe to hold the Glencoe position longer.

General Yule, who now took command of the column, abandoned his camp on
the 22nd October, and withdrew by a circuitous route to Ladysmith,
which was reached on the 26th. In the meantime, however, on the 21st,
the Boers marched from the north-west, having cut the railway and
captured a train of supplies at Elandslaagte to the north of Ladysmith.
Sir George White therefore ordered out a force, under General French, to
clear them from the line and to restore communication. Here again the
hostile positions were stormed with reckless gallantry, and the Boers
were swept back in headlong flight, suffering heavy losses. But again
our loss, especially in officers, was very serious, and again it soon
became apparent that victory, quite apart from the price of it, had not
improved our position. The Boers, thrust back for the moment at one
point, steadily continued their advance. General White's force was again
engaged on the 24th October, when, in order to prevent the enemy
crossing the Newcastle road from west to east, and falling on the flank
of General Yule's retiring column, an attack was made in force upon the
enemy at Rietfontein, near Elandslaagte, and the Boers, after six hours'
fighting, were driven from the hills.

The object aimed at was thus secured. Whether, had the effort been
pushed home, a definite check might at this stage have been imposed upon
the Boer advance, is doubtful. Stopping where it did, it did not prevent
the steady and unceasing movements of the enemy to surround Ladysmith.
One more fight and they were to circle the town in a ring of metal
which was long to withstand all the blows that could be levelled against
it. The battle of Lombard's Kop, or Farquhar's Farm, as it is officially
styled, ended in disaster to the British arms, and drew tight the
threads in the entanglement of Ladysmith. The evil fortunes of the day
were described vividly by Mr. Pearse in a letter written on the
following day.



CHAPTER II

LOMBARD'S KOP AND NICHOLSON'S NEK

     General White forced to fight--The order of battle--Leviathan--The
     Boers reinforced--A retrograde movement--How Marsden met his
     death--Naval guns in action--A night of disaster--Who showed the
     white flag?--A truce declared--A humiliating position.


_October 31._--If the action on Rietfontein, or Pepworth's Farm ridges,
a week ago was the great score for us that official reports represent,
in that it checkmated all possible efforts of the Boers to intercept
Brigadier-General Yule's column on its march from Dundee, there can be
no doubt that the tables were turned upon us effectually yesterday. Not
only did our attempt to beat one of the enemy's columns in detail, and
capture the heavy Creusot guns that had been harassing us, fail through
misdirection, but when attacked in turn by Boer reinforcements, our
troops were untimely ordered to abandon a position that they had held
for four hours without serious loss, and this gave moral, if not
material victory to the enemy. Successful in every fight up to that
point, we are now in the humiliating position of finding ourselves
practically invested by a Boer force that will not attack except by
artillery fire at long range, and whose leader has the power
temporarily, at any rate, to choose the fighting ground that suits Boer
tactics best if we decide to take the offensive. Not only so, but our
little army here has suffered a great disaster in the loss of two
gallant regiments, one of which had only ten days earlier gained for
itself proud distinction by being first to crown the heights of Talana,
near Dundee, where British infantry proved worthy of its most glorious
traditions. As a purely defensive measure, if nothing more, the fight of
yesterday was forced upon us. Like some other operations in this brief
but eventful campaign, it came too late, but, whether timely or not,
a battle was inevitable unless we meant to sit down tamely and be
battered at.

Yesterday morning, long before daybreak, our force was on the move,
intent upon outflanking positions which the Boers held two days earlier.
Colonel Grimwood, with one brigade consisting of the 1st and 2nd King's
Royal Rifles, the Leicestershire and the Liverpool battalions, took up a
position on open ground near Lombard's Kop, supported by a regiment of
cavalry, the Border Mounted Rifles, and the Natal Carbineers with three
batteries. A fourth battery was posted on a green kopje almost directly
in line between Lombard's Kop and Rietfontein Hill. Colonel Ian
Hamilton, with the second infantry brigade, consisting of the Gordon
Highlanders, Rifle Brigade, Manchesters, and 1st Devons, formed a
strong reserve behind the long ridge connecting these points with their
left on the Newcastle road, where the Imperial Light Horse were held
ready for action when the proper time should come.

At four o'clock in the morning our infantry were all in position for the
fight, as it had been originally planned. Half an hour later they
exchanged shots with a few Boers scattered about kopjes in their front,
and from that moment, until nearly noon, they remained practically under
fire, never budging an inch, but remaining immovable, except when a
change of front became necessary to meet the Boer reinforcements, and
that was effected by an advance. Up to that point everything seemed to
be going in our favour. When there was daylight enough for gunners to
see clearly, the 42nd Battery, posted at the eastern end of a green
kopje that forms an irregular spur of Rietfontein Hill, but at a much
lower elevation, opened fire on that ridge where the Boers had planted
Long Tom.

It was interesting to watch shot after shot fall nearer the mark around
it as the gunners picked up the range, until one shell struck and burst
close to "Long Tom's" embrasure. Then the battery took to firing
shrapnel, which were so well timed that one could see projectiles from
the six guns in succession bursting at intervals along Rietfontein's
level crest, which must have been raked from end to end with a shower of
shrapnel bullets. The enemy's leviathan sent two shots at this battery,
without effect, and then turned its fire upon Ladysmith town again, not
with malicious intent, perhaps, but aiming to hit either the balloon or
the railway station, where, in addition to naval guns, there happened to
be stores of forage and other things that might easily have been set
aflame by shells.

Notwithstanding this demonstration, our force was making steady progress
towards an envelopment of the main Boer position at half-past seven in
the morning. Immediately after that, however, prospects changed with the
appearance of formidable reinforcements for the Boers, marching
apparently from the direction in which a large camp had been seen two
days earlier. They came into action on our right flank with a brisk
rifle fire, followed by the deep notes of artillery. In intervals
between the regular roar of field guns came the sledgehammer "thud!
thud! thud!" from an automatic gun, which Tommy Atkins, with his
aptitude for expressive phrases, promptly christened "Pom! Pom!" and
that name sticks to it with unpleasant associations, for the Boers had
not only one but many automatons of the same pattern. Like the heavier
field-piece, "Pom! Pom!" throws shells that burst badly, but throws them
with great accuracy, so that scores of shots in rapid succession fell
among our batteries whenever they advanced to a fresh position, or
changed ground in hope of keeping down that harassing fire.

At this time the Border Mounted Infantry and Natal Carbineers made
frequent dashes to secure advantageous points, and the Boers were at one
time so hard pressed that they gave ground hurriedly before an attempt
of the 60th Rifles to gain a rough crest which took the long hollow
behind Lombard's Kop in reverse. Then the enemy's reinforcements falling
back somewhat threatened our right flank, and Sir George White,
reluctant to prolong his already attenuated line, met that movement only
by sending the Carbineers round Lombard's Kop, and bringing up the
Imperial Light Horse in support.

About this time the Gordon Highlanders and Manchester battalion were
drawn forward from Hamilton's Brigade to the green tree-fringed kopje,
on the ridge of which our 42nd Battery still maintained its position,
playing effectively upon "Long Tom." It looked as if Sir George meant to
reinforce his fighting line, and try a decisive counter-stroke, by
throwing all the weight he could against the Boer left wing, which was
either wavering or executing some wily movement that had the appearance
of a retirement. But unluckily at this critical moment the 60th Rifles
and Leicestershire men began to fall back from the position they had
gained, which was immediately occupied by Boer riflemen, and the 60th,
exposed to a storm of bullets from three sides, came across open ground
in very loose formation. We presently learned that the order had been
sent for them "to retire on the balloon," Sir George White having
apparently resolved upon concentration by a retrograde movement.

Receiving a message in the words quoted, men naturally assumed that it
meant a hasty retreat and not a retirement by successive lines of
resistance. In some cases nerves overstrained by hours of inaction gave
way, and a few men threw down arms or equipment in a momentary panic,
abandoning even their Maxim gun for a time. This, however, was quickly
checked by the example of cool comrades, who, spreading out in obedience
to commands from their officers so that there might be wide intervals
for the shots to pass through, walked slowly and steadily across the
open veldt, where bullets were raining like hailstones. In that
retirement Major Myres, of the 1st Battalion King's Royal Rifles (60th),
fell mortally wounded. Young Marsden, of the same battalion, going to
the Major's assistance, knelt beside him, and bent over as if to bind up
a wound. In that position he remained motionless so long that Lieutenant
Johnson, who had been firing steadily with a wounded soldier's rifle
until twice hit himself, went to see if he could give any help. He found
his brother subaltern dead in the act of binding up a wound as he knelt
over the dying field-officer's body. At that moment Lieutenant Johnson
received his third wound, and had to be carried from the field by
ambulance men.

Mounted infantry of the King's Royal Rifles and Leicestershire
Regiment, with Natal and Border Mounted Rifles, covered this retirement
until it passed beyond the new line formed by Gordons and Manchesters,
so that Colonel Grimwood's Infantry Brigade, looking rather like broken
troops in the loose irregularity of every company, was not called upon
to rally or turn to face the enemy, but marched straight back towards
the balloon, "Long Tom" opening fire upon them as they crossed a ridge,
with marvellously exact knowledge of the range. Three shells burst close
to groups of the 60th, many men being hit.

At that moment, however, the Boer gunners' attention was diverted to
another point, where, from hills just in front of the town, and facing
Rietfontein, Captain Lambton's 12-pounders opened. It was as great a
surprise for us as for the Boers. We saw the shell explode just in front
of "Long Tom's" epaulement, and heard a cheer from spectators, scores of
the townspeople having gathered on a slope by Cove Hill to watch the
scene, among them a crippled gentleman who has to be wheeled about in a
Bath-chair. Nobody who does not know what sailors will accomplish in
spite of difficulties could have believed that Captain Lambton would
bring his guns into action so soon after reaching Ladysmith, and
especially, as we heard afterwards, as one had been upset by a shell
from "Long Tom" as it was being drawn across level ground slowly by a
team of oxen. Evidently, however, the mishap had done no harm, for the
bluejackets were manning two 12-pounders that showed no sign of damage,
and both of them were making excellent practice. At the third round it
planted a shell in the enemy's battery, and the fifth put "Long Tom" out
of action for a time by disabling some of its gunners. Sir George
White's gradual withdrawal of his forces to positions prepared for
defence was therefore not harassed by shell fire from beyond the range
of our own field batteries.

Quite apart from these operations, but intended to fit in with them, was
the despatch of a flying column late on Sunday night to turn the enemy's
right flank or cut off his line of retreat in the direction of Van
Reenan's Pass. For either purpose, two battalions of infantry, though
they might be the bravest and the best, with a mountain-battery of
7-pounders carried on mules, did not seem quite adequate, but Major
Adye, of the Royal Irish Rifles, who acted as staff-officer guiding the
column, was confident of success, and glad of the chance to be with two
such battalions as the Royal Irish Fusiliers and the Gloucesters in such
an enterprise.

Possibly all might have gone well with it but for a deplorable accident.
In the dead of night some boulders rolling down from a hill startled the
transport and mountain-battery mules, which stampeded, taking with them
nearly all the reserve rifle ammunition. As to what happened after that,
accounts vary greatly. Few of the Gloucester men or Royal Irish
Fusiliers got back to tell the story, except as wounded men on parole,
and they had not seen the whole thing through. It seems certain,
however, from concordance of evidence, that the Gloucesters and
Fusiliers, instead of outflanking the Boers, were actually between two
strong bodies of Free State men, when they seized a strong position and
established themselves there. At any rate, they were attacked in turn
soon after daybreak by Boers who crept up the slopes in rear, firing on
them from both flanks--some say all round. Notwithstanding this, the
thousand men held their ground against odds until nearly every round of
ammunition had been expended, and the casualties numbered nearly a
hundred and fifty killed or wounded.

Both regiments begged that they might be allowed to charge the rough
slopes from which the ceaseless stings of rifle-fire came, and the
Fusiliers, whose colonel would have led them willingly enough, had their
bayonets fixed, when some one hoisted the white flag, and by this act
the remnants of two gallant regiments became prisoners of war. "Flags of
truce!" said an "old brag" who recounted the story, with tears in his
voice; "I wish they would leave the damned rags at home, or dye them all
khaki colour, so that neither Dutchmen nor us could ever see them."

News of that disaster travelled fast. It was told on the battlefield in
front of Ladysmith two hours later, and it probably had some effect on
the fortunes of a fight that cannot be recalled by Englishmen with
unmixed satisfaction. The result may be regarded as a drawn battle, in
that each side remained at the finish in possession of its own position,
but on us who watched every phase, first with confidence and then with
increasing anxiety, the impression made was a very unpleasant one,
closely akin to humiliation.

The Boers were left in command of heights on which, if given time, they
may plant artillery to shell the town and camp with a fire to which we
can make no effective reply until the quick-firing naval guns of heavy
calibre and long range are mounted. Bluejackets have been working hard
to that end all day, unmolested by the enemy, who have declared a truce
for twenty-four hours in order that the wounded of both sides may be
placed in comparative safety.

General Joubert has sent to us an ambulance with wounded under parole
from the captured column, and in exchange his surgeons have taken a
similar number of Boer wounded from our hospitals. All who have come in
speak highly of the treatment they have received at the enemy's hands.



CHAPTER III

LADYSMITH INVESTED

     The exodus of the townsfolk--Communications threatened--Slim Piet
     Joubert--Espionage in the town--Neglected precautions--A truce that
     paid--British positions described--Big guns face to face--Boers
     hold the railways--French's reconnaissance--The General's
     flitting--A gauntlet of fire--An interrupted telegram--Death of
     Lieutenant Egerton--"My cricketing days are over"--Under the
     enemy's guns--"A shell in my room"--Colonials in action--The
     sacrifice of valuable lives.


     October closed without further hostilities, and its last day was
     uneventful in a military sense, though full of forebodings in the
     town, because all knew that the Boers were taking advantage of a
     brief armistice to bring up reinforcements. On this last day of the
     month civilians eager to get away from Ladysmith crowded every
     train. Writing on November 1st, Mr. Pearse  said:--

All Saints' Day is observed with some strictness by Boers who do not
show similar veneration for other festivals in the Church Calendar.
There have at any rate been no hostilities to-day, but from Captain
Lambton's Battery on Junction Hill, where the naval 4.7-inch
quick-firing gun is being mounted, we have by the aid of the signalman's
powerful telescope watched a significant Boer movement going on for
hours. We can see them among the scrubby trees between Lombard's Kop and
Umbulwaana (or Bulwaan as it is more generally called), and hurrying off
behind that hill along the road that leads southwards. That road cuts
the railway not more than six or seven miles out, and their movement
threatens our line of communications that way, unless we can manage to
check it by judicious use of cavalry and mounted troops. The flight of
townsfolk southward continues. They do not even trouble about luggage
now, but lock their doors and clear off. Half the houses are empty, and
many shops closed.

     It was early shown that the enemy had not undertaken the war in a
     half-hearted manner. He let no possible opportunity escape to
     better his position; and in the choice of means he was not inclined
     to risk his reputation for "slimness." On this point Mr. Pearse has
     a good deal to say in his next  letter:--

_November 2._--For two whole days after the battle of Lombard's Kop
there was absolute cessation of hostilities, and this lull the Boers
turned to account in a manner very characteristic. There can be hardly
any doubt that we might have taken advantage of it also to safeguard our
line of communications by posting a force where it might have checkmated
one of the enemy's obvious moves. Anything would have been better than
the inaction, which simply allowed the Boers to mature their own plans
and put them into execution without risk of interference from us. That
might almost have been foreseen when General Joubert on 31st October hit
upon a characteristic plan for finding out what was the exact state of
affairs in Ladysmith, and we, with a delightful naïveté, suspecting no
guile, seem to have played into his hands. It will be remembered that
the most painful incident of "Black" or "Mournful Monday" was the
surrender of all but a company or two of the Gloucesters and Royal Irish
Fusiliers, which with a mountain battery had been detached to turn the
enemy's flanks, with consequences so humiliating and disastrous to us.
Under pretence of treating the wounded from this column with great
consideration, Joubert sent them into camp here, taking their parole as
a guarantee that they would not carry arms again during this campaign.
With the ambulance waggon was an escort of twenty Boers, all wearing the
Red Cross badge of neutrality. Their instructions were to demand an
exchange of wounded, and on the plea of being responsible for the proper
care of their own men, they claimed to be admitted within our lines.
Such a preposterous request would not have been listened to for a moment
by some generals, but Sir George White, being anxious apparently to
propitiate an enemy whose guns commanded the town, full as it was of
helpless women and children, yielded that point, and so the ambulance
with its swaggering Boer escort came into town neither blindfolded nor
under any military restrictions whatever. Among this mounted escort
Ladysmith people recognised several well-known burghers, who were
certainly not doctors or otherwise specially qualified for attendance on
wounded men. They were free to move about the town, to talk with Boer
prisoners, and to drink at public bars with suspected Boer
sympathisers--all this while they probably picked up many interesting
items as to the number of troops in Ladysmith, the position of ordnance
stores and magazines, and the general state of our defences, which were
chaotic at that moment. One among the visitors was particularly curious
about the names of officers who dined habitually at the Royal Hotel
mess, and very anxious to have such celebrities as Colonel Frank Rhodes,
Dr. Jameson, and Sir John Willoughby pointed out to him. Does anybody in
his senses believe that such careful inquiries were made without an
object, or that the Red Cross badge was regarded as a sacred symbol
sealing the lips of a Boer as to all he had seen and heard in Ladysmith?

When Joubert's artillery began shelling the town their fire was directed
on important stores, the locality of which could only have been
indicated to them by secret agents, and on places where officers are
known to assemble at certain hours. These may all have been merely
strange coincidences, but, at any rate, they are noteworthy as showing
that in some way, whether by accident or cunning design, General
Joubert's gunners were able to profit by the truce that was agreed upon
without any exact stipulation on either side as to its duration. The
tacit understanding seems to have been that both forces should have time
to collect their wounded and bury their dead.

It is certain that the Boers took a little more time than was necessary
for this purpose, and turned it to good use for themselves by
strengthening the earthworks behind which "Long Tom" is mounted, while
we in turn were enabled to get a second naval gun of heavy calibre into
position before the bombardment began again. The necessity for doing
this was probably chief among reasons which kept our artillery silent
during the last two days, though it seemed to mere spectators that a
chance was thus being given for the enemy to mount batteries on heights
that commanded nearly every part of our camp.

To make this perfectly clear without the aid of a map showing contours
of all ridges and hollows is very difficult, and one can only attempt to
give in words a rough idea of the general position. If the reader will
bear in mind what a horse's hoof inverted looks like, he may get a
mental picture of Ladysmith and its surroundings--the heels of the
horse-shoe pointing eastward, where, five miles off, is the long, flat
top of steep Bulwaan, like the huge bar of a gigantic horse-shoe magnet.
The horse's frog approximately represents a ridge behind which, and
facing Bulwaan, but separated from it by broad stretches of meadow, with
the Klip River winding a serpentine course through them, between high
banks, is Ladysmith town. Between the frog and the horse-shoe lie our
various camps, mostly in radiating hollows, open either to the east or
west, but sheltered from cross fires by rough kopjes of porphyritic
boulders that have turned brown on the surface by exposure to sunshine.
Bushy tangles of wild, white jasmine spring from among these boulders
with denser growth of thriving shrubs bearing waxen flowers that blaze
in brilliant scarlet and orange, and the coarse grass that begins to
show on every patch of earth between the rocks is dotted with clusters
like dwarf petunias, or purple bells of trailing convolvulus. A rich
storehouse this for the botanist, whose contemplative studies, however,
might be rudely disturbed by the shriek and boom of shells bursting
about him, for, as I have said, the enemy's guns command most of these
ridges, though they cannot always search the hollows in which our camps
are as much as possible hidden.

The horse-shoe, in its irregular curve, is dotted here and there with
outposts, whose duty it is to keep the enemy's sharpshooters from
getting within rifle range of our artillery positions encrusting the
ridges at several points like nails of the horse-shoe. Without locating
them exactly, one may say that the Naval batteries are on rough
eminences of the northern heel, facing Rietfontein Hill, where the
Creusot gun, known as "Long Tom," is mounted behind earthworks at a
range of 6800 yards, which is well within compass of the _Powerful's_
12-pounders and at least 3000 yards less than the extreme distance at
which shells from her 4.7-inch quick-firing guns would be effective.

Positions for field batteries are prepared at other points round the
wide sweep, but only to be occupied as occasion may arise, and therefore
one does not care at present to locate them more precisely. The enemy,
having heavy artillery of various calibre mounted on Bulwaan, is able to
enfilade certain posts held by our infantry pickets on the heels of the
horse-shoe, but there are folds among the rocky kopjes where men can lie
comparatively screened from shells, which at that distance give timely
notice of their coming, as sound travels rather faster than the
projectiles do at the end of their flight.

We have outposts on Intombi or Maiden's Castle, which forms the
horse-shoe's southern heel, others stretching westward thence to a gap
in the toe of the shoe, through which a wood runs nearly due west until
it branches off to the Drakensberg Passes in one direction and
Maritzburg in the other, and pickets on the north-western and northern
heights, with a detached post at Observation Hill, an elongated kopje
outside the general defences, overlooking a wide valley of mimosa scrub
towards Rietfontein, which is the enemy's main stronghold, commanding
as it does the railways to Van Reenan's Pass in the west, and to
Newcastle in the north. Except for a distance of two miles from
Ladysmith, therefore, both these railways are in the hands of the Boers,
who can use them as uninterrupted lines of communication with the Orange
Free State and the Transvaal respectively. That they were being so used
to some purpose we had reason for believing, during the two peaceful
days following the one which from its associations has come to be known
among soldiers as "Mournful Monday." Standing on the naval battery, one
could watch Boers hard at work preparing positions near Lombard's Kop,
and along the crest of Bulwaan, for artillery that was probably then
being brought by railway from Laing's Nek, and at the same time columns
of Boer horsemen were moving behind Bulwaan southwards, evidently intent
upon cutting our own lines of communication. That they would be allowed
to accomplish it without a timely effort on our part to prevent them
seemed inconceivable.

For most of us it was a shock to realise that ten or twelve thousand
British soldiers could be shut up by an army of Boer farmers before any
attempt at a counter-stroke had been made. The mobility of our enemies,
however, gives them a wonderful advantage in such movements over a force
that consists mainly of slow-moving infantry, and unless opportunity is
taken to attack them promptly, when they may be beaten in detail, their
power for mischief is very far-reaching. Possibly Sir George White was
quite right to put his trust in defensive tactics, knowing that he could
hold Ladysmith against all attempts of the Boers to capture it
notwithstanding their numerical superiority, but it is none the less
vexatious and unpleasant to find ourselves beleaguered and bombarded.

Whether the enemy had power to invest Ladysmith effectually, and keep a
strong force across our lines of communication would only be ascertained
by a reconnaissance. Directly and without any warning except to officers
commanding detachments, a force assembled at the earliest hour this
morning (Nov. 2). There was so little fuss that soldiers lying in tents
on bivouac slept undisturbed by the clanking of bits as horses were
saddled, or the rumble of wheels when a battery moved to their places in
the column. Artillery, 5th Lancers, 18th Hussars, Natal Carbineers,
Border Mounted and Natal Mounted Rifles get together silently, the
volunteers vieing with regulars in this proof of discipline, which
indeed comes natural to men many of whom know by sporting experience on
the veldt that silence is a virtue. General French takes command of this
mobile little force, and at two o'clock it moves out through the
darkness for a reconnaissance along the Colenso Road, where it comes in
touch with the enemy soon after daybreak. A brisk skirmish against Boer
riflemen, who as usual have been quick to occupy commanding kopjes;
showers of shrapnel hurled among them from our field battery; a few
shells tearing up the dust in clouds in their distant camp; and two of
our own Lancers hit, makes up the story of this affair, which serves to
show conclusively that communication by road in that direction is
barred, if not effectually cut. General French therefore brought his
column back, reaching Ladysmith in time to take train for Durban,
handing over the cavalry command before he left to General Brocklehurst.

That train was the last to get through, and even then had to run the
gauntlet of rifle and artillery fire from Boers who were on both sides
of the line. An hour later the railway was cut by the Boers, whose light
guns completely commanded a defile through which the line passes; and at
two o'clock telegraphic communication stopped short in the middle of an
important despatch, while private and press messages innumerable await
their turn. The thread of that interrupted telegram will probably not be
taken up for many days, and we realise that our isolation is complete.
Communications might have been kept open for days longer by an energetic
use of artillery and mounted troops, but now it is too late to reopen
them without incurring risk of serious losses. We must be content to
wait the development of events in other quarters, for the Boers are all
round us now, and, blink the fact as we may, it must be admitted that
Ladysmith is under siege.

While General French was making his reconnaissance our naval 12-pounders
opened fire on "Long Tom" a few minutes after six o'clock, as a flash
and puff of white smoke from his muzzle told that the bombardment was
about to begin. For an hour and a half the artillery duel went on
briskly, Captain Lambton's naval battery answering shot for shot, or
rather anticipating each, as the shells from our guns travel with
greater velocity, and get home three seconds before "Long Tom's" can
take effect.

Unfortunately one of the enemy's shells fell close to Lieutenant
Egerton, instructor in gunnery of H.M.S. _Powerful_, who was mortally
wounded. "My cricketing days are over now," he said, with a plucky
attempt to make light of his agony as the bluejackets lifted him gently
on to a stretcher. The Naval Brigade also had one bluejacket wounded,
but not seriously. There was only one other casualty, though shells fell
frequently into the camps of Gordon Highlanders and Imperial Light Horse
in rear of our main battery, the former having one man hit by a splinter
as he lay in his tent. The two regiments were thereupon ordered to shift
their quarters, which they did with great promptitude, having no
particular fancy to play the part of targets for ninety-four-pound
shells.

_November 3._--Misfortunes press upon each other quickly. This morning
Lieut. Egerton, R.N., a young sailor, not less distinguished for skill
in his profession than for personal gallantry, died. His requiem rang
out from the naval battery in its duel with the enemy's heaviest
artillery. Soon other Boer guns joined in from Lombard's Kop and the
slopes of Bulwaan, throwing shells about the town as if resolved to
compass its ruin.

To-day, indeed, for the first time, we have had brought home to us the
dangers and discomforts, if not the horrors, of what a bombardment may
be in an unfortified town under the fire of modern artillery. We cannot
accuse the Boers of having deliberately thrown shells into the houses of
peaceful inhabitants, or over buildings on which the Geneva Cross was
flying. These are, unfortunately, just in the line of "Long Tom's" fire
from Rietfontein Hill, and the shells may have been aimed at our naval
battery, but, if so, they went very high, or their trajectory at that
range would not have carried them half a mile beyond the mark.

[Illustration: THE ROYAL HOTEL, LADYSMITH

Showing ruins of Mr. Pearse's bedroom, wrecked by a shell from "Long
Tom," Nov. 3, 1899]

Several fell near the hospital, others went 500 yards farther in the
direction of Sir George White's headquarters, and one came crashing into
my bedroom at the Royal Hotel, not ten yards from where many officers
were then lunching. The hotel is a prominent building, that can be seen
from "Long Tom's" battery, and many people, giving Boer gunners credit
for astonishing accuracy, suggested that the shot must have been aimed
to strike where it did, in the hope of bagging Colonel Frank Rhodes and
Doctor Jameson, whose ordinary hour for meals was known to every spy
frequenting the place, and might easily have been communicated by
them to the artillerist Mattey, who was recognised among a group
drinking at the bar on Tuesday evening. Of slight materials do the
Ladysmith townsmen weave romances, but one can hardly be surprised,
seeing how long they have lived in strained relations with neighbours
whose Boer sympathies were well known. But whether intended for the
Royal Hotel or not, the shell came very near to causing several
vacancies in the senior ranks of this force. Passing through the ceiling
and partition wall of a colleague's bedroom, it burst in mine with such
force that it blew out the whole end-wall, hurling bricks across a
narrow court, all about the dining-room windows, which were smashed by
the explosion; but of those sitting close inside only one was slightly
scratched by broken glass. Clouds of dust, mingled with fumes of powder,
poured in through the open casement, so that those in farther corners
were for some moments in much anxiety as to the fate of their friends.
When they found that no harm had been done there was an assumption of
mirth all round, but nobody cared to stay much longer in that room. At
the moment of explosion I had risen from the table to resume work in my
chamber, which presented to my astonished eyes anything but the
characteristics of a quiet study then. Papers scattered in every
direction were buried with clothes and kit under a wreckage of building
materials. One fragment of iron shell had gone clean through a bag and
all its contents to bury itself beneath the floor in earth. Another had
crushed my precious Kodak flat, and there was scarcely a thing exposed
in the place that had not been torn by the blast of powder or cut by
splinters. The diminished population of Ladysmith began to gather about
that spot when they found that no other shells fell there. "What a lucky
escape for you!" they all said, and I devoutly agreed with them.

That was "Long Tom's" last attempt at bombarding Ladysmith to-day. He
had been frequently silenced, and once apparently disabled in his heavy
duel with "Lady Anne," as Captain Lambton names the naval quick-firing
gun, and a final lucky shot either put him out of action for the day or
injured so many Boer gunners that their comrades did not care to "face
the music" again. While all this bombardment was going on, the telegraph
staff and post-office clerks, having no work to do, amused themselves by
playing cricket on the raceground within sight of the Boers on Bulwaan,
and well within range of guns mounted near the crest of that hill,
whence a hot fire was for some time directed towards the town. And they
played their match to a finish, though one shell burst very close to
them.

Meanwhile General Brocklehurst having succeeded General French in the
cavalry command, took out another flying column composed of 5th Dragoon
Guards, Imperial Light Horse, Border Mounted Rifles, and one field
battery, to keep the enemy in play and prevent them from mounting other
guns. He attacked the ridges about Lancer's Nek and all his troops
behaved brilliantly. The Border Mounted Rifles in squadrons, wave behind
wave, charged a kopje as if they meant to ride full tilt to its crest,
but halting at its base to dismount they scaled its rugged slopes and
drove the Boers back to another ridge, exchanging shots at short range
with effect on both sides. The Imperial Light Horse had meanwhile got
into a tight place, and the 5th Dragoon Guards, dashing forward to their
assistance were badly galled by fire from Boers concealed among rocks in
front and flank. Out of this difficulty they had to run the gauntlet for
their lives, but not so hurriedly that they could not stop to help
comrades in distress, and many deeds of heroism under fire made the
spectators of this episode forget that some one had blundered. The Boers
got no more guns into position to-day, but we had only gained a brief
respite, and at the sacrifice of some valuable lives. Major Taunton of
the Border Mounted Rifles and Captain Knapp and Lieutenant Brabant of
the Imperial Light Horse were killed, and many of lower rank wounded.



CHAPTER IV

EARLY DAYS OF THE SIEGE

     Moral effects of shell-fire--General White appeals to Joubert--The
     neutral camp--Attitude of civilians--Meeting at the Town Hall--A
     veteran's protest--Faith in the Union Jack--An impressive
     scene--Removal of sick and wounded--Through the Boer lines--How the
     posts were manned--Enemy mounting big guns--More about the
     spies--Boer war ethics--In an English garden--Throwing up
     defences--A gentlemanly monster--The Troglodytes--Humorous and
     pathetic--"Long Tom" and "Lady Anne"--Links in the chain of fire--A
     round game of ordnance.


     The reconnaissance under General Brocklehurst, above described,
     brought home to the garrison of Ladysmith their utter helplessness
     to prevent the isolation and investment of the town. Any doubt that
     may have lingered among them or the civil inhabitants was dispelled
     by the action promptly taken by Sir George White to try and secure
     the safety of these latter and his sick and wounded. The
     circumstances are related by Mr. Pearse in a letter dated 5th
     November:--

Sunday, _5th November_.--There can be no doubt about the first effects
of shell-fire on a beleaguered town. Let men try to disguise the fact as
they may, it gets on the nerves of the most courageous among us,
producing a sense of helplessness in the presence of danger. Nobody
likes sitting still to be battered at without power of effective reply.
Still less would he be content to stand inactive by while the wounded
and defenceless were being shelled. These considerations no doubt
influenced Sir George White yesterday when he sent a message to General
Joubert asking that non-combatants with sick and wounded might be
allowed to leave Ladysmith without molestation. It must have been
bitterly humiliating for a soldier in command of ten or twelve thousand
British troops, who have been twice victorious in battle, to feel that
one reverse had resulted in making him a suitor for so much favour at
the hands of an adversary. Whether the request ought ever to have been
made or not, to say nothing of whether we ought to have been in the
abject position of having to make it, is a question about which most
civilians are at variance with the military authorities, seeing that the
answer was a foregone conclusion. Its exact purport we do not know yet,
but it amounted to a flat refusal, as most of us had foreseen, and was
accompanied by alternative proposals which placed Joubert in the
position of a potential conqueror--dictating terms, and our acceptance
of these cannot be read by the Boers in any other light than as an
admission of weakness or pusillanimity. Of course we know that it means
nothing of the kind, but simply that Sir George White would not expose
sick and wounded, with helpless women, children, and non-combatants
generally, to the possible horrors of a prolonged bombardment. So long
as they remained in town he would be righting with one hand tied,
because he could not in that case place batteries in certain
advantageous positions without the risk of drawing fire from Boer guns
on Ladysmith and its civilian inhabitants. Whether this state of things
has been mended much by Sir George White's acceptance of Boer conditions
and Ladysmith's practical repudiation of them may well be doubted. As
the matter is generally understood, General Joubert, while declining to
grant Sir George's request, consented that a neutral camp for sick,
wounded, and non-combatants should be formed at Intombi Spruit, five
miles out on the railway line to Colenso, and practically within the
Boer lines. They were to be supplied with food, water, and all
necessaries from Ladysmith by train daily, under the white flag, and to
be on parole not to take any part thenceforth in this war.

As a set-off against these conditions, Joubert undertook that the camp
should not be fired upon by any of his men, or its occupants molested,
so long as they observed the regulations imposed upon them. And he
promised further that they should all be released, but still on parole,
whenever the siege of Ladysmith might be raised or the Boer forces
withdrawn. He gave no pledge, however, that his batteries should not be
placed in such a position that they would be screened by the hospital
camp from the fire of our guns, or that when he might choose to attack,
the Boer forces would not advance from a point where we could not shoot
at them without danger of sending shells and bullets among our own
comrades and fellow-subjects.

Ladysmith's most representative men were dead against the acceptance of
conditions which seemed to them all in favour of one side. They
expressed freely, and without reserve, doubts as to General Joubert's
good faith, and saw in his proposals only fresh instances of Boer
cunning. Their sturdy manhood rebelled against arbitrary terms dictated
by an enemy whose superiority, except in mere numbers, they naturally
enough declined to admit. The weaker spirits might yield, if they would,
out of timid respect for "Long Tom" and other heavy artillery, the
shells from which, though they have done little harm so far, have a
distinctly demoralising effect when they come screeching through the air
and crashing into houses day after day.

In earlier stages of the bombardment people showed little alarm after
they had got over the first shock of hearing a shell burst. Children
were allowed to play about the streets, and women went shopping,
according to the custom of their sex all the world over. Kaffir girls
stood in groups at street corners, swaying their bodies as they beat
noiseless time with their bare feet to the monotonous drone of
mouth-organs or Jews'-harps, which most of them carry strung about their
necks, wherewith to banish dull care in the many moments of leisure
snatched from toil, and beaming broad smiles on every dusky swain who
passed. But the rumour got about that General Joubert had threatened to
bombard the town indiscriminately if our guns fired lyddite at his
batteries, and this threat had unknown terrors for the simple, who did
not realise that, whether discriminately or indiscriminately, Boer
shells would continue to fall in Ladysmith streets all the same.

So far as I can find out, General Joubert never sent such a foolish
message, but the rumour--possibly put about by Boer agents--served its
purpose by inducing a timorousness in some minds, and men who had no
fear for themselves began to get very anxious about the safety of wives
and children. That was the keynote of a speech made by Mr. Farquhar at
the public meeting yesterday, when he, as Mayor of Ladysmith, made
official announcement of General Joubert's proposals. Mr. Farquhar is a
cautious Scotsman, whose sense of responsibility in such a crisis would
compel him to put the gravest phase of the case first. The Boer
conditions, however, met with nothing but indignant protests, nobody
venturing to raise his voice in favour of them except by way of comment
on the utterances of some fiery orator, who was for asking the General
to send back threats of dire punishment on every Boer if a shot should
be fired into the town. Mr. Charles Jones, who was a transport rider in
the Boer war of 1881, and carried Sir Evelyn Wood's despatches through
the enemy's lines to a beleaguered garrison, was first to express in
calm, manly words what was afterwards found to be the general feeling of
the townsmen present at that meeting. Mr. Jones has won the respect of
every Englishman who knows him by the steadfastness with which he stuck
to his post when others were seeking safety in migration to Maritzburg
or Durban. With firm faith in the leader under whom, as a volunteer, he
saw active service, Mr. Jones believes that we should see our
difficulties through, without asking or accepting doubtful favours from
a foe. Somebody in the crowd ventured to say, "But your wife and
children are not here now." "No," was the answer; "and I have no wish
nor right to speak for fathers and husbands, who are at liberty to do as
they please. But I can still say that if my wife and children were here,
I would rather they should trust to protection under the Union Jack with
British soldiers than under the white flag at Joubert's mercy."

There were men in that crowd who had to speak for those near and dear to
them. Anxious-eyed and pale, with muscles knit into hard lines on their
faces, one after another declared in voices that may have faltered, but
still rang true as steel, that they and theirs would face their fate
under the Union Jack. Archdeacon Barker, who has been ceaseless in his
ministrations among the afflicted since fighting began, gave eloquent
expression to the prevalent sentiment, as one who had kith and kin
about him, and finished by saying that he would neither go to the camp
selected by General Joubert, nor allow his wife and family to go. To
this conclusion the meeting also came by general agreement, the
dissentient minority being still free to do as they wished, except that
no man who had taken up arms in defence of Ladysmith could accept the
terms offered by General Joubert. Then the people gave three lusty
cheers, and ended by singing "God Save the Queen," with an effect, the
impressiveness of which was deepened by the thought that within a few
hours Ladysmith would be under bombardment from all the thundering
artillery our enemy could muster. But the resolution of this public
meeting made no difference to Sir George White's decision, which was a
practical acceptance of the terms formulated.

To-day has passed in peace, but marked by a very natural depression as
we have seen train after train laden with sick, wounded, and
non-combatants, go out to the neutral camp at Intombi Spruit, where
these people will have to remain under a white flag so long as this
humiliating investment of Ladysmith may last. To make the matter worse
they were sent out at first with insufficient supplies for urgent needs,
and with so few attendants that tents for all could not be pitched the
same night. Even now many non-combatants have to lie in small patrol
tents of thin canvas with a double slope, under the ridge of which
there is barely room for a child to stand upright, and the camp is
placed on ground so flat, near the river bank, that heavy rains might
convert it into a mere swamp. There, however, General Joubert decided
that the neutral camp must be pitched, and those who were too weak or
spiritless to help themselves, must needs be thankful for such gracious
concessions. Some, not quite satisfied with the protection this affords,
are digging burrows deep into clay banks by the river side, where they
will be even more liable to be flooded out. In strict justice it must be
said that many sick and wounded went out, not of their own free will,
but because, being under medical care, they had no option. The result of
this is that men suffering from slight ailments, or whose wounds would
not incapacitate them from duty longer than a week or so, are virtually
prisoners of war, only to be released at the pleasure of the Boers, or
until we reclaim them by force of arms. These are unpleasant things to
write, but they are true none the less.

The Boer guns have preserved all along an absolute silence, which was
not broken on our side until ten at night, when a sentry set off his
rifle. This roused the whole camp, and soldiers everywhere stood to
their arms until the cause of this false alarm was discovered.

_November 6._--At daybreak this morning, Second Lieutenant Hopper, 5th
Lancers, came into camp, having got through the Boer lines by a ruse as
clever as it was sportsmanlike. He brought despatches from the General
commanding at Estcourt. His difficulties show that though a soldier may
get through the Boer lines, they are now tightening round us, and unless
a British force strong enough to break through can be assembled quickly,
we are in for a long siege here. Nobody gave the Boers credit for so
much enterprise, and if Sir George White made a mistake, as I think he
did, in not sending all the women and children away from Ladysmith when
Dundee was abandoned, this error probably arose from faulty information,
for which those who thought they knew the Boers and their resources were
in the first instance responsible.

Our defences begin to take shape, so that their strong and weak points
can be estimated. Southward is a long brown hog-backed hill, which the
local people call Bester's Ridge, though military authorities divide it
into Cæsar's Camp, with Maiden's Castle forming a spur in the inner
curve towards Ladysmith, and Waggon Hill. Altogether it is three miles
in length, and being the key of the position will want holding. For that
purpose the trusty Manchester battalion is placed there, having roughly
constructed sangars for rallying points. This ridge forms one horn of
the roughly-shaped horse-shoe which I have already spoken of, the toe of
which sweeps round from Maiden's Castle in low but rugged kopjes
overlooking slopes of open veldt to where Klip River loops the old camp
which, being constructed of corrugated iron, is called "Tin Town." That
would be a weak point, but that it is protected by an outlying kopje
known as Rifleman's Post on the far side of the river. This is occupied
by a small body of the King's Royal Rifles, the other companies of which
hold King's Post, an eminence from which the northern horn of the
horse-shoe bends along by Cove Ridge, Junction Hill, Tunnel Hill, and
Cemetery Hill, to Helpmakaar Hill. Here the Devons are posted at the
heel of the shoe, which juts into a scrubby flat pointing towards the
neck between Lombard's Kop and Bulwaan. These hills are respectively
four and five miles distant from our outworks. Bulwaan stands across the
opening afar off like a huge, bevelled, flat-topped bar placed, as it
might be, for a horse-shoe magnet to attract it. The whole curve of our
defensive works must stretch nearly nine miles. In addition, there is an
undefended opening nearly two miles long, where the straggling town lies
naked to its enemies, or rather screened by nothing more formidable than
belts of mimosa, Australian willow, and eucalyptus trees. Between the
town and Bulwaan, however, flows Klip River, with many windings through
a broad plain, mostly pasturage, but with mimosa scrub closing it in
towards the gorge where river and railway converge at Intombi Spruit.

Long as our defensive line is for 10 or 12,000 men to occupy
effectively, it must be held at all costs, and a post must be kept on
Observation Hill north-west of the Cove Ridge, for if once the Boers got
possession of that kopje they might make other positions untenable. As
matters stand, they have planted guns on an outer ring of hills, whence
they can throw shells into the town. Sir George White was blamed for
giving up Lombard's Kop and Bulwaan, but these could not have been held
without weakening more important points. They seemed, moreover, too far
off to serve as artillery positions for the enemy's smaller guns, and
almost inaccessible for big Creusot 94-pounders. Against attacks by
riflemen from that direction the hard plain is a sufficient obstacle.
Any body of Boers attempting to cross that open could be met by
overwhelming infantry fire and the shrapnel of field-batteries. The idea
that Bulwaan is beyond effective range of anything but the heaviest
artillery has, however, been dispelled to-day. The enemy got a high
velocity 40-pounder into position there, and its shell, travelling
faster than sound, whistles over the town, to burst near the balloon
detachment which is moving with the guy ropes up a valley towards the
outer defences. This gun must have a range of nearly six miles, and we
have nothing that can reach it but our naval 4.7-inch and 12-pounders
mounted on Junction Hill, both of which have enough to do in keeping
down the fire of "Long Tom" of Pepworth's Hill.

_November 8._--In previous letters and telegrams I have referred
frequently to the presence of known Boer sympathisers who were suspected
of being in constant communication with our enemies. No steps were taken
to test the truth of these suspicions until numberless facts, which the
most sceptical could not ignore, proved that every movement made by our
troops within or near the camp was known very soon afterwards to Boers
outside, who could not have discovered these things by mere observation
without the aid of secret agents. Several people were understood to be
shadowed, but nothing came of this except an order that no person should
be allowed to remain in Ladysmith without an official permit. This was
practically set at naught by farmers, who considered themselves free to
enter and leave the town without let or hindrance, until it was
practically surrounded by Boers, and they often gathered about the hotel
doors listening furtively to every scrap of gossip or news that fell
from officers.

At length the course was taken that might have saved much trouble if put
into practice days earlier, by making peremptory the order that all
non-residents who could not show the necessary permit to remain should
clear out within twenty-four hours, or be subject to arrest and
imprisonment. At the same time a warning went round that none would,
after the allotted time, be allowed to pass our outposts coming or
going, and so perforce many who would have been glad to get away
remained, having missed their last chance of going southwards by train.
What has become of them since then I do not know, unless they have taken
refuge with non-combatants, and sick and wounded, in the neutral camp.
At any rate, they are not here now, and that is something to be thankful
for, though they could give little information to the enemy, except that
shelling has done surprisingly little harm, and killed or wounded very
few in proportion to the enormous number of projectiles thrown. This in
spite of good guns, aimed with most accurate skill, is attributable
solely to the fact that the shells were too weakly charged to burst with
much destructive effect.

But the spies--for they were certainly nothing less--had done their work
in locating every point of military importance or personal interest in
Ladysmith, and it is hardly possible to doubt that this knowledge was
imparted to Boer gunners, who promptly began training their heaviest
artillery in the direction of supply depots, ordnance stores,
headquarters, intelligence offices, and other places not visible from
the enemy's positions, though within easy range of, and therefore
commanded by them, if the gunners knew exactly where to aim so that
projectiles might drop over intervening houses and trees. When the most
destructive shell burst in my bedroom most people regarded it as an
accidentally erratic shot, intended for some other mark. Those who
suggested that time and place had been deliberately chosen because
Colonel Frank Rhodes, Doctor Jameson, Sir John Willoughby, General
French with his staff, and other officers, were known to have lunched in
the Royal Hotel on several previous days, met with nothing but ridicule.
Colonel Rhodes especially made light of the idea that any gun could
shoot so accurately as to get within a few feet of hitting the exact
mark aimed at from a range of nearly five miles. Since then, however,
the hotel has been nearly struck several times, and on each occasion
about the same hour, so that the most sceptical are now changing their
opinions in favour of a belief that the Royal Hotel has been marked for
destruction. Out of consideration for other guests, therefore, Colonel
Rhodes, "the Doctor," Sir John Willoughby, and Lord Ava have taken up
their quarters elsewhere.

It may be a mere coincidence, but since their departure shells have
fallen less frequently in this part of the town, though a great many
have passed close over the Town Hall, on which a Red Cross flag floats,
denoting its use as a refuge for sick and wounded, and the Convent
Hospital, conspicuously placed on a ridge behind, has been completely
wrecked inside. Fortunately, however, the convalescent patients and
nurses were got away before that happened. It will probably be pleaded
in justification of the Boers that these buildings, being directly in
the line of fire behind our naval batteries, were liable to be hit by
high shots from "Long Tom." The same excuse, however, cannot be made in
other cases when shells fell among houses that are not in line with any
defensive work, camp, or arsenal. One cannot suppose that a mere desire
for wanton destruction of life and property directed the shots, which
were probably aimed on the off-chance of hitting officers known or
believed to be living in those houses. That would be sufficient
justification according to all the accepted ethics of war, and some
military men contend even that the Boers would be quite right to shell
Ladysmith until it was reduced to ruins if they hoped to accelerate
thereby the work they have taken in hand. It must be remembered that
Joubert's main object just now is to gain possession of the town, which
it is said he has sworn to capture, and if he thought that end could be
hastened by ceaseless bombardment of the place, involving possible
slaughter of many unarmed people, there is nothing in the law of nations
to prevent him, so long as a military force remains here ostensibly for
the defence of Ladysmith.

So runs the argument, but it would be preposterous to assume that
General Joubert thinks he can reduce British troops to submission or
bring about an evacuation by such feeble means. Sir George White has,
from humane motives, yielded points to his adversary which most of us
would have thought worth fighting for, but he is every inch a gallant
soldier, as we who have watched him under heavy fire all know full
well, and nobody here needs to be assured that he will never surrender
Ladysmith or abandon its stubborn defence as long as there is any reason
for holding it.

Ample provision is made for the safety of all non-combatants, where they
will not be exposed to shell fire from any quarter, or other dangers
except unlikely accidents, and against these no foresight can guard
entirely. There are some people who continue to take all risks rather
than forsake their property by day or night. These, however, are
comparatively few. The great majority got away while there was yet time,
leaving their houses, full of furniture, locked up or in charge of
Kaffir servants. Curiously enough, they were in many cases the first to
suffer loss by shell fire, and are probably now congratulating
themselves on the timely desertion that enabled them to escape worse
evils.

Mr. Fortescue Carter, the most famous of Ladysmith's townsmen, whose
_History of the Boer War in 1881_ is well known, had scarcely left his
home, next door to the Intelligence Department's headquarters, when
shells began to fall in his beautiful garden among rose trees,
hollyhocks, dahlias, verbenas, and other familiar English flowers, which
he cultivated with much care. Neighbours might be content to surround
their houses with fences of almond-scented oleander, and let the hundred
varieties of South African shrubs bloom in wild profusion under the
shadowing eucalyptus tree, but his gardens were laid out with
well-ordered primness, and in them he delighted to see growing the
fragrant flowers that reminded him and his visitors of home life in
England. All this is in danger of becoming a shell-fretted wilderness
now. "Long Tom" once having turned his attention in this direction
continued to pound away until two shots struck the house itself, and,
bursting inside, shattered the dainty contents of several rooms to
atoms.

Meanwhile, in a picturesque, vine-trellised cottage, not fifty yards
off, ladies went about their domestic duties as usual, apparently
oblivious of all danger. One I saw quietly knitting in the cool, shaded
stoep, and her busy needles only stopped for one moment, when a shell
burst in the roadway beyond, then went on again as nimbly as ever. After
the first shock, some people, who seem least fitted to bear a continuous
strain on their nerves, become so accustomed to the hurtling of huge
projectiles through the air that they show no sign of fear when danger
is close to them. Women are often braver than men in these
circumstances. There is one whose courageous example alone keeps native
servants and coolie waiters at their posts, but she, when little more
than a child, saw some of the horrors of the Zulu War, and she speaks
with pride of her father as one of the few farmers who, refusing to quit
their homes, kept wives and families about them, and fought like heroes
in defence of all they held dear.

Not all in Ladysmith are of this heroic temper, but very few make open
parade of fear if they have any, and though precautions are taken
against exposure to unnecessary risks, there is no sign of panic yet.
Soldiers, every one of whom may be very valuable as a fighting unit
before this siege closes, are ordered to protect themselves by such
shelter trenches or bomb-proofs as can be constructed out of loose
stones, sandbags, forage bales, or other material that lies ready at
hand. The works have to be built under shell-fire, but when finished
they will be an inestimable advantage to regiments that occupy day and
night hill-crests where they might be enfiladed by long-range artillery
fire. That risk must, of course, be taken if the enemy's riflemen should
harden their hearts for a determined frontal attack upon any position
supported by flank fire from guns, but until such a critical moment
arrives the men not actually on duty as sentries or outlying pickets
will be little harassed by bursting shells or flying splinters or
showers of shrapnel bullets, if they dig themselves good pits to lie in,
with sufficiently thick coverings overhead.

The 1st Devon battalion, which, as one of the best here, and trusted for
its steadiness in all circumstances, was given the most vulnerable point
to hold, has busied itself in the formation of works that promise to
make Helpmakaar Hill impregnable, though its long, low spur is exposed
to artillery fire from Bulwaan and Lombard's Kop and the scrub-screened
nek between them. The works there show what can be done under
difficulties by a good regiment toiling cheerfully to carry out the
orders of good officers. The original breastworks were traced by
engineers who had in view rather the necessity of throwing up light
defences against rifle fire than the probability that these works would
be battered at by heavy artillery from one side and taken in reverse
from another. It soon became evident that the entrenchments if left in
that state would be untenable, and yet they could not be abandoned
without serious risk that Boers might then be able to advance under
cover near enough to threaten other posts, if not to command by rifle
fire, within twelve hundred yards or so, the heights on which naval guns
are mounted. Only by holding the contours of extreme spurs on Helpmakaar
Hill could the Devons hope to sweep by rifle fire a wide zone of
slightly undulating veldt, and thus command all possible approaches from
Lombard's Kop or Bulwaan in that direction. So they stuck generally to
the lines traced by engineers for their outer defences, but deepened the
trenches, widened the banks in front of them, built bomb-proof
traversers overlaid with balks and earth to neutralise the effects of
enfilading fire, and then began to form for themselves dug-out huts in
which to sleep, with solid earth roofs supported on railway sleepers.

All this means enormous labour, carried on frequently under a galling
cannonade from the enemy's smaller guns, and interrupted occasionally by
the necessity of having to keep down the rifle-fire that comes from a
distant kopje, while standing on the front of these works.

Yesterday, watching a cavalry patrol that tried in vain to feel for a
way through the scrubby nek into more open ground beyond, General
Brocklehurst and his staff were nearly hit by a shell from some
newly-mounted battery the exact position of which could not be located,
for its smokeless powder made no flash that anybody could see in broad
daylight, nor generated even the faintest wreath of vapour. Its
projectile travelled faster than sound, so that the range could not have
been great, but there was nothing by which our own batteries might have
been directed to effective reply. We all abused "Long Tom" at first
because of his unprovoked attack on a defenceless town, but by contrast
with what is known among Devon men as the "Bulwaan Sneak," and among
bluejackets as "Silent Susan," the big Creusot gun with its loud report,
the low velocity of its projectiles, and the puff of white smoke giving
timely warning when a shot is on its way, is regarded as quite a
gentlemanly monster.

Following the example thus set by regiments on the main defensive
positions, others temporarily in reserve have begun to build or dig for
themselves splinter-or bomb-proof retreats, in which they may take
shelter when the shelling becomes too hot. The Imperial Light Horse were
first to hit upon the idea of burrowing into the river-banks. They began
by forming mere niches, in which there was only just room enough for
three or four men to stand huddled together when they heard a shell
coming. Finding, however, that the soil could be easily dug out, they
set gangs of natives to work lengthening the tunnels and connecting them
by "cross drives," in the planning of which several Johannesburg mine
managers found congenial occupation. This went on until the river-bank
for a hundred yards in length was honeycombed by dark caves, in which a
whole regiment might have been hidden with all its ammunition, secure
from shell fire, the walls and roofs being so formed that they needed no
additional support. There was no danger of the stiff alluvial soil
falling in even if a shell had buried itself and burst above the
entrance to any of these cool grottoes.

[Illustration: A SHELL-PROOF RESORT

A culvert under a road used as a living-place by day for civilians, who
returned to their houses when the shelling ceased after sunset]

I spent half an hour in one of them, and found the air there delightful
by contrast with scorching sunshine outside. What it will be, however,
after many people have been crowded together for some time is less
pleasant to contemplate, but even for that the resourceful Imperial
Light Horse are prepared, and they already begin to talk of air-shafts
so cunningly contrived that light and air may enter, but shells be
rigidly excluded. Civilians in their turn emulate the Light Horse, but
with unequal success, and their excavations assume such primitive
forms that future archæologists may be puzzled to invent satisfactory
explanations of curious differences in the habits of the cave-dwellers
of Ladysmith, as exemplified by the divergent types of their underground
abodes.

And, indeed, these habits are strangely various even as presented to the
eyes of a contemporary student. Some people, having spent much time and
patient labour in making burrows for themselves, find life there so
intolerably monotonous that they prefer to take the chances above
ground. Others pass whole days with wives and families or in solitary
misery where there is not light enough to read or work, scarcely showing
a head outside from sunrise to sunset. They may be seen trooping away
from fragile tin-roofed houses half an hour before daybreak carrying
children in their arms, or a cat, or monkey, or a mongoose, or a cage of
pet birds, and they come back similarly laden when the night gets too
dim for gunners to go on shooting. There would be a touch of humour in
all this if it were not so deeply pathetic in its close association with
possible tragedies. One never knows where or at what hour a stray shot
or splinter will fall, and it is pitiful sometimes to hear cries for
dolly from a prattling mite who may herself be fatherless or motherless
to-morrow. We think as little as possible of such things, putting them
from us with the light comment that they happen daily elsewhere than in
besieged towns, and making the best we can of a melancholy situation.

There are, I believe, many good reasons why Sir George White should
allow his army to be hemmed in here defending a practically deserted
town, apart from the ignominy that abandonment would entail, and it is
probably sound strategy to keep Boer forces here as long as possible
while preparations are being matured for attacking them from other
directions. On the latter point one cannot express an opinion without
full knowledge of the circumstances such as we cannot hope to get while
communications are cut off. But nobody can pretend to regard our present
inaction following investment as anything but a disagreeable necessity,
or affect a cheerful endurance of conditions that become more
intolerable day after day. Now and then we have hopes that the Boers may
risk everything in a general attack with the object of carrying this
place by storm, when they would most certainly be beaten off and lose
heavily.

They did something to encourage this hope yesterday. It began with a
heavy artillery duel between "Long Tom" and the naval gun that is known
as "Lady Anne." After vain attempts to silence our battery, the enemy's
fire, generally so accurate, became wild, several shells going so high
that they struck the convent hospital hundreds of yards in rear. This,
at any rate, is the most charitable explanation of acts that would
otherwise be inexcusable. The Red Cross was at that time, and for days
before, flying above the convent, in which Colonel Dick-Cunyngham and
Major Riddell were patients, under the care of nursing sisters.
Fortunately, good shelter was found for them in the convent cellars
until they could be removed to safer quarters, but before this much of
the upper rooms had been reduced to ruins by persistent shelling. When
the Boers thought they had sufficiently demoralised our defensive forces
by artillery "preparation," a brisk attack by riflemen began to develop
against Maiden's Castle, Cæsar's Camp, and Waggon Hill, a continuous
range forming the southern key to our position, and held by the
Manchester Regiment. Brigadier-General Hamilton and his staff were there
from the outset, ready, if need be, to call up the Gordons in support.
This necessity, however, never arose, though the attack, as I can
testify from personal observation on the spot, was pushed for some time
with great persistence, the Boers trying again and again to creep up by
the western slopes of Waggon Hill, while shells raked the whole face of
Cæsar's Camp to Maiden's Castle, and burst repeatedly among the tents of
the Manchester battalion, without doing serious harm.

A colour-sergeant with only fourteen men defended the crest of Waggon
Hill until nightfall, when the Boers retired sullenly. To repeated
offers of reinforcements the sergeant warmly replied that he had men
enough for the job, and proved it by repelling every attack, the Boers
declining to face the steady fire that was poured upon them whenever
they showed themselves. Colonel Hamilton, however, had a firm conviction
that the Boer movement against that flank was only a feeler for more
determined enterprises to follow, and he accordingly stiffened the
defensive lines there by mounting half a field battery in strong
earthworks during the night, and sending up bodies of mounted infantry
to support the Manchesters.

As the sun was setting in clouded splendour behind Mount Tinwa's noble
crags and peaks, throwing their dark shadows across the lower hills near
us, a flash so quick, that it could hardly be seen, darted from out the
gloom there, and with the crashing report that followed came a shell
plump into one of our most crowded camps. This was evidently from a gun
newly mounted on Blaauwbank. Two other shells burst in quick succession
about the same place, but fortunately nobody was hit. Then, satisfied
with having got the range to a nicety, our enemy left us in undisturbed
quiet for the night, but with an uncomfortable consciousness that fresh
links were being forged in the chain of artillery fire by which
Ladysmith is now completely girdled, for two batteries that cannot be
exactly located have been shelling steadily all day from each end of
Bulwaan, with accurate aim and far-reaching effect, as if to disprove
all the theories that led to the error of abandoning that position.

This morning fallacious prophecies were further shattered by a shell
from works placed far back on the table top of Bulwaan. It did not
demolish anything else, but it makes us very chary now about predicting
what the Boers can or cannot do. Through telescopes they had been
watched building that strong fort, and everybody knew it was being
thrown up as an emplacement for heavy artillery, yet few people thought
that another gun, akin to "Long Tom" in calibre and range, could have
been mounted there so soon, until they saw the dense cloud of smoke from
a black powder charge, and heard the familiar gurgling screech of a big
shell, followed by the thundering report.

"Puffing Billy" was the appropriate name bestowed on this new enemy by
Colonel Rhodes, who has an amusing faculty for applying quaintly
descriptive phrases to every fresh development in this state of siege. I
am told on high authority that the word "siege" is not quite applicable
to our case here, but if the Boers are not sitting down before Ladysmith
in a very leisurely way, intent upon keeping us under bombardment as
long as they may choose to stay, I do not know the meaning of such
movements. It was we who provoked "Puffing Billy" to his first angry
roar by a trial shot from one of our big naval guns into the Bulwaan
battery. "Long Tom" presently joined in the chorus, and it took our two
4.7 quick-firers all their time to keep down that cross-fire. Though
"Lady Anne's" twin-sister had been mounted some days, her voice was
seldom heard, until this morning, when, after a few rounds, "Long Tom"
paid silent homage to her sway, and in celebration of that temporary
knock-out, Captain Lambton christened his new pet "Princess Victoria,"
but the bluejackets called it by another name, to indicate their faith
in its destructive effect.

It was interesting to watch these weapons at work. Their gunners would
wait until they saw a flash from "Long Tom" or "Puffing Billy" and then
fire, their shells getting home first by two or three seconds, owing to
the greater velocity imparted by cordite charges. Soon after ten o'clock
the enemy's artillery fire from different directions grew brisker. The
damage, whatever it may have been, inflicted on "Long Tom," or his crew,
having been made good under cover of a white flag, which the Boers seem
to think they are at liberty to use whenever it suits them, Rietfontein
called to Bulwaan, and Blaauwbank in the west echoed the dull boom that
came from the distant flat-topped hill in the east. Then along our main
positions, against the Leicesters and Rifles on one side, and the
Manchesters on another, an attack by rifles developed quickly.

Intermittently these skirmishes lasted most of the day, our enemy never
pressing his attack home, but contenting himself with long-range
shooting from good cover. Neither heavy guns nor small arms did much
damage. Major Grant, R.E., of the Intelligence Staff, was slightly
wounded as he sat coolly sketching the scene of hostilities as he saw it
from the front of Cæsar's Camp. A lieutenant of the Manchesters and
three men of the Leicester Regiment were also hit by rifle bullets or
shell splinters, but none very seriously.



CHAPTER V

THE FIRST BOER ASSAULT

     Joubert's boast--The preliminaries of attack--Shells in the town--A
     simultaneous advance--Observation Hill threatened--A wary enemy--A
     prompt repulse--Attack on Tunnel Hill--The colour-sergeant's last
     words--Manchesters under fire--Prone behind boulders--A Royal
     salute--The Prince of Wales's birthday--Stretching the Geneva
     Convention--The redoubtable Miss Maggie--The Boer Foreign
     Legion--Renegade Irishmen--A signal failure.


From the first moment of complete investment here my belief (continues
Mr. Pearse, writing on 9th November) has been that the Boers would never
venture to push an infantry attack against this place to the point of a
determined assault. This opinion is strengthened by to-day's events. Yet
it is said that Joubert believes he could take Ladysmith by a _coup de
main_ at any time were it not for his fear of mines, which he believes
have been secretly laid at many points round our positions. His riflemen
certainly did not come close enough to test the truth of this belief
to-day, but contented themselves with shooting from very safe cover at
long ranges. If they could have shaken our troops at any point they
would doubtless have taken advantage of it to push forward and take up
other equally sheltered positions, whence they might have practised
their peculiar tactics with possibly greater effect. These methods,
however, lack the boldness necessary for an assault on positions held by
disciplined troops, and having no single objective they are gradually
frittered away in isolated and futile skirmishes, whereby the defenders
are to some extent harassed, but the defences in no way imperilled.

Our enemies began at five o'clock this morning with artillery fire from
Bulwaan and Rietfontein on Pepworth's Hill. This unusual activity so
early warned us that some movement of more than ordinary importance
might be expected. All preparations for the possibility of an attack
more determined than the feeble feelers of yesterday had been made in
good time, so that there was no hurrying of forces to take up or
strengthen positions that might be threatened, and the Boers were
evidently somewhat puzzled where to look for the masses of men who
showed no sign of movement They thereupon took to shelling the town as
if they thought our troops might be concentrating there, and under cover
of this vigorous bombardment their riflemen advanced, so far as caution
would permit them, against several points wide apart. It must have been
with the idea of a feint that they made the first attack from westward
against Observation Hill, which was held by outposts of the 5th
Lancers, dismounted and trusting to their carbine fire, the
ineffectiveness of which, when opposed to Mauser rifles of greater
accuracy at long range, soon became evident.

Two companies of the Rifle Brigade had, however, been moved forward to
support the cavalry, and their steady shooting checked the enemy's
frontal attack. Several officers and other picked shots, lying prone
behind boulders, took on the Boers at their own game with perceptible
effect at 1200 yards or more, thereby keeping down a fire that might
otherwise have harassed our men, who were necessarily exposed at times
in taking up positions to meet some change of tactics on the other side.
Boers never expose themselves when they find bullets falling dangerously
close to them. They will be behind a rock all day if need be, waiting
for the chance of a pot-shot, and stay there until darkness gives them
an opportunity to get away unseen. They give no hostages to fortune by
taking any risks that can be avoided. The game of long bowls and sniping
suits them best. When one place gets too hot for them to pot quickly at
our men without risk of being potted in turn, they will steal away one
by one, wriggling their way between boulders, creeping under cover of
bushes, doing anything rather than show themselves as targets for other
men's rifles.

[Illustration: SKETCH MAP OF POSITIONS ROUND LADYSMITH, NOVEMBER 1899]

They have made the most of physical features, that in this country lend
themselves to such tactics, by occupying hills with heavy artillery, in
front of which are rough kopjes strewed with trap rock, and round
these the Boer riflemen can always move for advance or retirement well
screened from our fire. They have, however, to reckon sometimes with the
far-reaching power of shrapnel shells. When they ignore that we may
manage to catch them in a cluster.

So it happened to-day. After being beaten off from the direct attack on
Observation Hill they began feeling round its left flank by way of
kopjes, between which and our outposts there is a long bare nek, and in
rear of that the railway line to Van Reenan's Pass runs through a deep
cutting with open ground beyond. To effect a turning movement of any
significance the Boers had choice of two things: either they must show
themselves on spurs where there was scant cover, or take to the cutting;
and we knew by experience which they would prefer. In anticipation of
such a development one field-battery had been placed on the rough slope
that juts northward from Range Post, through which runs the main road to
Colenso in the south and to several of the Drakensberg passes in the
west. Up through a gorge deeply fretted by Klip River this battery
commanded the long bare nek. Two other guns, the Maxim-Nordenfelts of
Elandslaagte, manned by a comparatively weak detachment, took up a
position on their own account at the foot of King's Post near our old
permanent, but now disused, camp, whence they could bring a fire to bear
on the same point. All tried a few percussion shells by way of testing
the range and then turned to the use of shrapnel, which, admirably
timed, burst just beyond the nek, searching its reverse slopes and
enfilading the railway ravine with a hail of bullets, where apparently
the Boers must have been caught in some numbers. At any rate they are
said to have lost heavily there, and from that time the attack or rather
fusilade directed against Observation Hill began to slacken. We had not
many men hit considering that the skirmish had begun soon after daybreak
and continued with little cessation up to nine o'clock, when the Rifle
Brigade reported three wounded, one being young Lieutenant Lethbridge,
who is so badly injured that recovery in his case can hardly be hoped
for.

We had not, however, done with the enemy by repulsing him at one point.
His big guns opened again presently from Blaauwbank and Rietfontein to
the west and north. A smaller battery on Long Hill echoed the deep boom
from "Long Tom," who was carrying on a duel with our naval gun, and
throwing shells over the town, to burst very near Sir George White's
headquarters. Field-guns from the nek near Lombard's Kop joined in
chorus, shooting with effect on Tunnel Hill, held by the Liverpools,
several of whom were hit. Colour-Sergeant Macdonald went out of the
bomb-proof to mark where one shell had struck, when another burst on the
same spot, and he fell terribly mangled by jagged fragments of iron. His
comrades rushed to aid him, but he died in their arms, saying simply,
"What a pity it was I went out to see." In truth the shells did not want
looking for to-day. They were falling in rapid succession from one end
of Bulwaan on Helpmakaar Hill, where the Devons, thanks to having taken
wise precautions in making bomb-proof shelters, suffered little, though
"Puffing Billy" turned occasionally to hurl a 94-pounder in that
direction when tired of raking Cæsar's Camp and Maiden's Castle, where
the Manchesters had not only their flank exposed to this fire, but were
smitten in front by a heavy gun the Boers had mounted on Flat-Top
Mountain, some three miles off, and by smaller shells that came from
automatic guns hidden among scrub on the nearer slopes across Bester's
Farm. These did little harm, though the repeated thuds of their
discharge, like the rapid strokes of a Nasmyth hammer on its anvil,
might have shaken the resolution of any but the steadiest troops, seeing
that our field-battery on Maiden's Castle could not for a long time
locate the exact hiding-place of those vicious little weapons, and when
they did get a chance, the enemy's heavy artillery replied to their fire
with a more persistent cannonade than ever. The Manchesters stood
manfully the test of long exposure to this galling storm of iron and
lead, their fighting line continuing to hold the outer slopes, where
from behind boulders they could overlook the hollow between them and
their foes, and get occasionally shots at any Boer who happened to show
himself incautiously. That did not happen often, and their chances of
effective reply to the bullets or shells that lashed the ground about
them were few at first.

When an attack of riflemen did begin to develop with some show of being
pressed home, the Manchesters were still lying there ready to meet it
with a fire steadier than that of the Boers and if anything more deadly.
Being secure from flanking movements, since the Border Mounted Rifles
were on their right sweeping round Waggon Hill and some companies of the
60th in support, the Manchesters could devote all their attention to
that long front, and beat back every attempt of the Boers to cross the
valley where a tributary of the Klip River winds past Bester's Farm down
to the broad flats by Intombi Spruit. These hostile demonstrations were
never very determined or long sustained, and they slackened down to
nothing for a time just before noon.

At that hour a curiously impressive incident astonished many of us in
camp not less than it did the Boers. Guns, big and small, of our Naval
Battery having shotted charges were carefully laid with the enemy's
artillery for their mark, and at a given signal they began to fire
slowly, with regular intervals between. When twenty-one rounds had been
counted everybody knew that it was a Royal salute, in celebration of the
Prince of Wales's birthday. Then loud cheers, begun as of right by the
bluejackets, representing the senior service, ran round our chains of
outposts and fighting men, shaken into light echoes by the jagged
rocks, to roll in mightier chorus through the camps, thence onward by
river-banks, where groups emerged from their burrows, strengthening the
shouts with even more fervour, and into the town, where loyalty to the
Crown of England has a meaning at this moment deeper than any of us
could ever have attached to it before. "What do you make of it all?" was
the signal flashed from hill to hill along the Boer lines, and
interpreted by our own experts who hold the key. And well they might
wonder, for in all probability a Prince of Wales's birthday has never
been celebrated before with a Royal salute of shotted guns against the
batteries of a besieging force, and all who are here wish most heartily
that the experience may remain unique.

Our enemy's astonishment, however, had the effect of producing a
temporary cessation of hostilities. The bombardment was not carried on
with its previous vigour, possibly because some detachments, taken
unaware by the prolonged artillery fire from our side, had been
partially disabled. But the rifle attack against Maiden's Castle and
Cæsar's Camp was kept up until near sunset.

In the midst of this cross-fire a flag, with the Geneva emblem of mercy
on it, was hoisted at the topmost twig of a low mimosa bush in front of
Bester's Farm, which must not be confounded with the other Bester's away
to westward, near the Harrismith Railway, and giving its name to a
station on that line. There are many branches of the Bester family
holding farms in Natal, and nearly all are under a cloud of suspicion at
this moment because of their known sympathy with the Boers. That
red-cross flag was taken as a sign that the farmstead had been occupied
as a hospital, and we respected it accordingly, but, as on other
occasions in this curiously conducted campaign, the Boers, who stretch
the Geneva Convention for all it is worth in their own favour, made it
cover something else. While our soldiers scrupulously avoided firing
anywhere near the farmstead that bore that emblem of neutrality, they
saw herds of cattle and horses being driven off, and these were followed
presently by a trek waggon on which also the red-cross flag waved
conspicuously.

In that waggon were several women carrying white sunshades, and among
them, it is said, the redoubtable Miss Maggie who used to ride her
bicycle through our lines to the enemy's, even after war had been
declared and Free State burghers had crossed the border into Natal. If
that is so, she and many of her relations have crossed our lines
finally, to throw in their lot with the Boers, accompanied by very
valuable herds of live-stock. The only Besters who remained in our hands
as hostages have, I believe, been allowed to take refuge with sick and
wounded at Intombi Spruit camp, where they at least are safe enough
under the protection of their Boer friends. Other curious flags were
seen about the same place to-day. Lieutenant Fisher of the Manchesters,
who though wounded soon after sunrise refused to quit his post, and with
half a company held one shoulder of Waggon Hill until the last attack
had spluttered out, sent a careful report to his colonel before the
ambulance men took him to their field hospital. In this report he gives
details of some curious movements among the enemy. One contingent,
apparently some foreign legion, showing traces of elementary discipline
and evidently not numbering in its ranks many Boers of the old school,
advanced boldly across ground that afforded them little cover, and there
began to "front form" in fairly good order. They were well within range
of Lee-Enfield rifles, and a few volleys well directed sent them to the
right-about in anything but good order. Soon after, a second column
advanced with even more bravado, headed by a standard-bearer, who
carried a red flag. These were said to be Irishmen, who, having elected
to serve a republic, and being debarred from fighting under the green
banner of their own country, yet not quite ready to acknowledge the
supremacy of another race, may have flaunted the emblem of liberty by
way of compromise. More probably, however, they were a mixed lot owning
no common country, but willing or unwilling to serve under any colours
with equal impartiality. Two or three shrapnels bursting in front of
them to a vibrato accompaniment of rifle fire many were seen to fall,
but whether badly hit or not nobody on our side could say. At any rate,
these adventurous auxiliaries are likely to learn discretion from the
wily Boer after such an experience.

The attack, such as it was, had failed on both the positions threatened.
It was never pressed home with energy at any point, and unless the Boers
prove to be as good at concentration as they are in mobility, there is
not the remotest chance for them to achieve even a temporary success by
rifle attack against infantry whose discipline and steadiness have not
been shaken in the slightest degree by shell fire yet. What losses our
foes suffered we have no means of knowing, but they were probably much
heavier than our own, which numbered five killed and twenty-four
wounded, mostly by shells, in the twelve hours of intermittent
fighting.



CHAPTER VI

A MONTH UNDER SHELL FIRE

     The first siege-baby--An Irish-American deserter--A soldierly
     grumble--Boer cunning and Staff-College strategy--An ammunition
     difficulty--The tireless cavalry--A white flag incident--What the
     Boer Commandant understood--The Natal summer--Mere sound and
     fury--Boer Sabbatarianism--Naval guns at work--"Puffing Billy" of
     Bulwaan--Intrepid Boer gunners--The barking of "Pom-Poms"--Another
     reconnaissance--"Like scattered bands of Red Indians"--A futile
     endeavour--A night alarm--Recommended for the V.C.--A man of straw
     in khaki--The Boer search-light--Shelling of the hospital--General
     White protests--The first woman hit--General Hunter's
     bravado--"Long Tom" knocked out--A gymkhana under fire--Faith,
     Hope, and Charity--Flash signals from the south--A new Creusot gun.


     The garrison and inhabitants of Ladysmith now began to realise that
     they were doomed to a long period of inactivity if to nothing more
     serious. The days immediately following the Boer attempt of 9th
     November were quiet, rain and mist interfering with the enemy's
     bombardment. November 12 was, however, a somewhat eventful day,
     owing to the birth of the first siege-baby, and the arrival in camp
     of an Irish-American deserter from the Boers.

The baby, says Mr. Pearse in his diary (12th November), was born, not in
a dug-out by the river, but at a farm on a hill in the centre of
defensive works, where Mr. and Mrs. Moore, with their other children,
have elected to take the chances, near where I and other correspondents
have pitched our tents. Mrs. Moore made one trial of an underground
shelter, and then gave it up, saying that she should certainly die in
that damp atmosphere, so that it would be better to take the risk of
living where one could get fresh air, even though exposed to shells. The
Irish-American's story, though not to be swallowed without salt, tended
to confirm some things that seemed strange in the fight of three days
earlier, when, as will be remembered, Lieutenant Fisher's detachment
claimed to have shot many of a body that marched into action boldly with
a red flag flaunting at their head. The deserter said that the Irish
brigade that day lost heavily, having now only seventy-three left of the
original three hundred and fifty, and that ten Irishmen were killed by
one of our shells.

     It was not with a good grace that Sir George White's garrison
     resigned themselves to inaction. Their state of mind is shown
     clearly enough by Mr. Pearse in a letter written on 14th November,
     and describing the situation at this period.

_November 14._--The British troops here have their backs up now, and
grumble at the fate that chains them to a passive defence, when they
would wish for nothing better than to try conclusions with their foes at
close quarters. Sir George White knows best the part that he is expected
to play in the general strategy of this campaign, and there may be
reasons for not forcing the Boers to abandon any of their positions
round Ladysmith until the time ripens for a decisive action. It is
impossible, however, to ignore the effect that this produces on the
temper of soldiers, who say with characteristic energy of expression
that they would rather a hundred times take their chances with death in
a fair fight than remain idle under a shell fire that is trying to the
strongest nerves, though it does little material harm. Sir George is
naturally reluctant to sacrifice valuable lives in capturing positions
which we have not men enough to hold, but it would be something gained
if we could attack one point at a time, seize the Boer gun there, and
put it permanently out of action. Instead of that, we have allowed our
adversary to increase the number of artillery works and rifle sangars,
girding us about until his grip is so strong that even cavalry scouts
cannot push five miles from camp in any direction without having to run
the gauntlet of shells or Maxim bullets.

There are three positions which we might have held, or at least
prevented the enemy from occupying, and thereby frustrated all attempts
for at least a week longer, so that our communications southward would
have remained open until ample supplies of war material of various
kinds, much needed here, and especially appliances for long-distance
signalling or wireless telegraphy, could be brought up. But the time for
that went by while we were engaged in preparing positions for the
passive defence of Ladysmith, and the Boers, with the "slimness" that
has always characterised them in such operations, slipped round our
flank to cut us off from railway or telegraphic communication with lower
Natal. Even the guns of H.M.S. _Powerful_, on which we rely for keeping
down the enemy's long-range fire, did not get their full supply of
ammunition before the line was closed, and if any signalling appliances
more far-reaching than those ordinarily in use with a field force were
applied for in accordance with Captain Lambton's suggestion, they never
came.

As events have turned out, this was the gravest mischance of all, since
the next step which our wily enemies took was to close every means of
egress from this camp by placing their lighter artillery or mounted
riflemen on kopjes whence all open ground over which troops might move
could be swept by cross-fire. In other words, they took all the rough
eminences of the outer ranges best adapted for their own tactics, and
left the bare, shelterless plains or ridges to us. So far, therefore,
Boer cunning has proved itself more than a match for Staff-College
strategy, and nothing can restore the balance now but a strong blow
struck quickly and surely from our side. Against that the Boers are
naturally weak in proportion to the thinness of their investing line,
which stretches round a perimeter of nearly twenty miles; but on the
other hand, their greater mobility, owing to the fact that every
rifleman is mounted, gives them a surprising power of rapid
concentration on any point that happens to be threatened. This is a
factor that will have to be reckoned with in European warfare of the
future, if I mistake not the meaning of lessons we are learning here.
Nevertheless we might harass our enemies, giving them little rest day or
night. Here, however, the ammunition difficulty comes in again. We have
enough to last through a siege, but none to waste on doubtful
enterprises. This reduces us to the contemplation of night attacks, and
to trust in no weapon but the bayonet for capturing guns in positions
which we have not men enough to hold.

Tommy is ready and eager to try conclusions with the enemy on these
terms, if his leaders will only give him the chance, but meanwhile our
movements take the form of reconnaissances that lead to no tangible
advantages either in lessening the vigour of our adversary's bombardment
or in loosening any links in the chain of investment by which we are
bound. The situation is certainly curious and interesting historically
as an event for which no exact parallel can be found in the annals of
England's wars.

In writing of futile reconnaissances it is hardly necessary that I
should disclaim all intention of ignoring the excellent work done by
individual regiments on which the duties of patrolling have by turns
fallen. Dragoon Guards, Lancers, Hussars, Imperial Light Horse, Natal
Carbineers, and Border Mounted Rifles, have known little real rest for
days past. When not actually scouting the cavalry have been either on
outpost within touch of the enemy, or bivouacked beside their horses
ready for any emergency. The extreme tension necessitating all these
precautions may be relaxed somewhat now, but still we rely on the
mounted troops for information of every movement among the besiegers,
and so far trust in their alertness has been fully justified. The
morning after last Thursday's attack Major Marling pushed his patrols of
the 18th Hussars farther westward than they had been able to get since
communications were interrupted. Rumours, since confirmed, that the
Boers had suffered very heavily in their fruitless attack the previous
day, suggested the possibility of their having evacuated some positions.
Major Marling may have begun to take that view too when he saw a white
flag showing above the serrated crest of Rifleman's Ridge, which is
generally but too vaguely described as Blaauwbank, where the Boers have
at least one powerful field-gun mounted. Under a responsive flag of
truce Major Marling and a non-commissioned officer advanced to parley
with the enemy, whose pacific, if not submissive, spirit was thus
manifested. The field-cornet in charge said he understood there were to
be no hostilities that day. The English officer knew nothing of any
armistice, but agreed to retire without pushing the patrol farther in
that particular direction. As he and his comrades went back to join
their main body, Boer sharpshooters opened fire on them treacherously
from the rocks and sangars of Rifleman's Ridge. It is difficult to
understand such wanton violations of every principle recognised by
civilised belligerents, unless we assume that the Boers really thought
that their General had claimed a truce in order that his dead might be
buried, and that our cavalry were therefore at fault. It is, however,
impossible to find excuses, or give the Boers credit for good intentions
always in their use of the white flag. They seem to regard it as an
emblem to be hoisted for their own convenience or safety, and to be put
aside when its purpose has been served, without any consideration for
the other party. Even while this Boer officer pretended to think there
was a general truce that forbade scouting operations on our part there
was a gun being got into position by men of the same commando, and other
of the enemy's batteries were being either strengthened or moved to more
advantageous points. The work was, however, interrupted by a furious
thunderstorm and a night of heavy rain that brought the waters roaring
down from the Drakensberg ravines to flood the Klip River far above the
level at which some of its spruits can be crossed without difficulty at
other times.

English people, as a rule, picture early summer in South Africa as a
time of heat and drought. According to the calendar this is Natal's
summer, when hills and veldt, refreshed by genial showers, should be
green with luxurious growth of young grass, or brightened by a profusion
of brilliant wild flowers. But the seasons are out of joint just now. We
get days of torrid heat, bringing a plague of flies from which there is
no escape, and then a sudden thunderstorm sends the temperature down to
something that reminds one of chill October among English moorlands. The
sun hides its face abashed behind a misty veil, but the flies remain.
Drizzling rain, with white mists in the valleys, and heavy clouds
dragging their torn skirts about the mountains, also put a stop to the
bombardment until an hour past noon next day.

Probably these conditions were less favourable to us than to the enemy,
whose movements were completely masked, and when the clouds cleared some
of his batteries on new positions were ready to join the diabolical
concert that went on at intervals until dark. The concert, however, was
mere sound and firing signifying nothing--except in its effect on nerves
already unstrung--as we had no serious casualties that day. And the next
brought peace, for the Boers do not willingly fight on Sunday, and we
have no reasons at present for provoking them to a breach of the
tacitly-recognised ordination that gives us one day's rest in seven with
welcome immunity from shells. Their observance of the Sabbath, however,
does not run to a total cessation of labour on the seventh day, and if
they do not want to fight then they have no scruples about turning it
to account in preparations for a fight next morning. On this particular
Sunday, while we were getting all the rest that a shell-worried garrison
can reasonably expect, some of our enemies were labouring hard to mount
a big gun on Surprise Hill, which rises from a series of stone-roughened
kopjes where the Harrismith Railway winds nearly due west of Rietfontein
or Pepworth's Hill, and about 4000 yards north of King's Post--one of
our most important defensive works. In anticipation of this we had
shifted one heavy naval gun to Cove Redoubt, which is well within that
weapon's range of Surprise Hill, but can hardly be said to command it,
as the latter has an advantage in point of height. We had also, however,
lighter artillery bearing on Surprise Hill, and in some measure
enfilading its main battery, behind which, and in echelon with it, they
had apparently placed a howitzer.

Cannonading opened from many quarters soon after daybreak, the enemy's
fire being mainly directed against our naval guns, one of which,
however, devoted itself exclusively for a time to the Surprise Hill
battery where the Boers were preparing for action.

Before they could get many shots out of the new gun, we were pounding
away at it. Our first two shells fell short, but they were followed by
three others, clean into the battery's embrasure, with such obvious
effect that the big weapon inside must either have been dismantled or
put out of action. Since then it has not spoken, and the sailors
therefore naturally claim that they have silenced it for good and all.
An hour later the other naval gun--"Lady Anne" by name--silenced
"Puffing Billy of Bulwaan" for a time, and we have evidence that the
Boers must have suffered some serious losses before noon, when General
Joubert sent in a flag of truce, according to a custom which seems to be
in favour with him, whenever things are going a bit awry from his point
of view.

The Irish-American, who has been mentioned as having given himself up as
a deserter, described how the Boer gunners, terrorised by shrapnel fire,
had to be forced into the batteries under threats. But if the Boer
gunners are panic-stricken they have a curious way of showing it, for
some of them stood boldly on the parapets to watch the effect of a shot,
and the accuracy of their return fire does not betray much nervousness.
We are inclined to believe, however, that the Boer losses from artillery
fire have been greater than ours, partly because their shots have been
widely distributed in a speculative way with no particular object in
view, while ours have been aimed directly at the enemy's batteries, or
at sangars, to which their gun-crews retire between the rounds; and
partly, if not mainly, because our naval guns fire common shell with
bursting charges of black powder, the effect of which--though not so
violent locally as that of the Boer shells, charged with melinite
explosive--is spread over a much wider area. It is not much
satisfaction, however, for the losses and worry we endure here to know
that the investing force suffers even more severely so long as it
continues to harass us while we remain inactively helpless.

The men were beginning to say that they had stood this sort of thing
long enough, when the measure of their discontent was filled to
overflowing this morning by a bombardment fiercer than ever. It opened
with the barking of "Pom-Poms" as early as half-past five, and ran
through the whole gamut from lowest bass of a big gun's boom to the
shrillest scream of smaller projectiles and the whip-like whistle of
shrapnel bullets lashing the air with so little intermission that within
two hours no less than seventy-five shells had burst in and about
Ladysmith camp. This was too much to be borne patiently, and every
soldier welcomed the order for an offensive movement, their only regret
being that infantry were to play no part in the affair. General
Brocklehurst, with a force of cavalry, Imperial Light Horse, and
artillery, moved out of camp soon after nine o'clock, taking the road
that leads westward and southward through the gap at Range Post. The
object of that movement was generally believed to be an attack oh
Blaauwbank, or Rifleman's Hill, as it is officially called, and the
capture of a Boer battery there, from which our defensive lines between
King's Post and Cove Redoubt had been repeatedly enfiladed. If
successful in driving the enemy back, our troops would then swing round
to their left and go for the big gun on Middle Hill, against which
General Brocklehurst's brilliant but futile reconnaissance of the
previous Friday had been directed.

Three field batteries, posted on spurs along the line from Waggon Hill
towards Rifleman's Post, covered the advance by shelling in turn all the
Boer guns that could be brought to bear on the open ground across which
our troops had to pass. Thus challenged, the enemy's artillery replied
briskly, but their fire was a bit wild, and, regardless of shells that
fell thick about them, the Imperial Light Horse, numbering no more than
ninety rifles, led by Colonel Edwardes, who has succeeded the heroic
Chisholm in command of this dashing corps, pushed forward to seize Star
Kopje and prevent any Boer movement towards that point from Thornhill's
Farm.

Hussars went forward in support of the Imperial Horse, galloping like
scattered bands of Red Indians across the green veldt, where a spruit
runs down to Klip River, until they had passed the zone of hostile fire,
and then re-forming squadrons with a precision that was very pretty to
watch. Other cavalry were in reserve, massed behind folds of the
undulating slopes hidden from some Boer guns and beyond the effective
range of others. There was force enough for any work in hand, but not
quite of the right composition. To drive Boer riflemen off a rough ridge
along which they can retire from one position, when it gets too hot for
them, to another, nothing will do but infantry of some sort, and
preferably with a bayonet sting left in them for final emergencies. This
was an occasion of all others when infantry regiments might have changed
the whole course of events to our advantage, but for some reason they
had been left in camp.

For nearly three hours our batteries shelled the Boer kopjes, expending
much ammunition with perceptible effect on the brown boulders and
presumably on anything animate that might be hidden behind them; we
watched many Boers gallop away in haste across the plain, as if unable
to stand the leaden hail longer, and one of our batteries advancing
boldly got into position, whence it should have enfiladed that of the
enemy and wrought havoc among their horses if any were concealed in the
adjacent hollows. What effect the terrific shrapnel fire really produced
we had no means of knowing. Hardly a Boer showed himself while that
hurricane of bullets fell, but when General Brocklehurst meditated an
assault on the hill his troops were met by a furious rifle fire. The
ninety Imperial Light Horsemen of Colonel Edwardes's command were
obviously too few to dislodge the Boers from the ground they had held so
stubbornly. Further waste of artillery ammunition seemed useless, and
the time for employing cavalry to any purpose had not come. We therefore
had the chagrin of watching another force retire without accomplishing
its object, and most of us felt from that moment grave doubts whether
another such chance of breaking the bonds that envelop us could come
again until reinforcements were at hand for the relief of Ladysmith. As
our troops withdrew they were shelled right and left by Boer guns that
had been almost silent until then. Our batteries, aided by Captain
Kinnaird-Smith's two Maxim-Nordenfelts, covered the retirement, but they
could not put Surprise Hill out of action, or even attempt a reply to
the redoubtable "Long Tom" of Pepworth's Hill, who on this occasion
surpassed himself by throwing three shells in succession on the road by
Range Post Gap from a distance that must be well over 9000 yards. The
bit of hilly road where these shells fell and burst is no more than
fifty yards long by fifteen wide, and could not have been visible to
gunners five or six miles off without the aid of telescopic sights. Yet
the aim was so accurate that one shell fell between two hussar squadrons
and another just in rear of a battery, but without hitting man, horse,
or gun. "Long Tom" has done better in long-distance shooting, having
thrown one shell nearly to Cæsar's Camp, and the range-finders make that
out to be 11,500 yards from Pepworth's Hill, but these three shots
to-day hold the record for range and accuracy combined.

     During the following three weeks the already wearisome progress of
     the siege was broken by no large event. The Boers, discouraged by
     their want of success on 9th November, went on from day to day
     shelling the town with the guns already in position, and mounting
     others on the hills with which to make the bombardment more
     effective. They hoped to do slowly at a safe distance what they had
     failed to accomplish by a more daring procedure. The period,
     notwithstanding, is full of minor incidents, the record of which
     must be read with the greatest interest. Mr. Pearse  wrote:--

_November 15._--Half an hour after midnight all Ladysmith woke from
peaceful slumber on troubled sleep at the sound of guns, from which
shells came screaming about the town and into camps that had not been
reached by them before. What it all meant nobody could say, but the
firing did not cease until every Boer cannon round about our position
had let off a shot. Some of us began to dress, thinking that the misty
diffused moonlight was the coming of dawn. Women, huddling in shawls and
wraps, rushed off with children in their arms to "tunnels" by the
riverside, and there would have been something very like a panic among
civilians if soldiers had not reassured them. The staff officer, who had
been upon the watch for possibilities, until he heard the first Boer gun
fire, and then got into pyjamas for a good night's rest, saying, "There
will be no attack now," was a philosopher. Everybody cannot look at
things in that cool way when shells are flying about, but a good many of
us went back to bed again on discovering what the time was, puzzled to
account for the evening's extraordinary freak, but confident that it
would not be repeated until daybreak. That brought drizzling rain and
mists that have veiled the hills all day, putting a complete stop to all
hostilities. We know nothing yet that can account for the firing of so
many guns, and only attempt to explain it on the supposition that our
enemies, being apprehensive of a renewal of yesterday's attack, were
startled by some false alarm. Not knowing from which direction the
expected blow might be struck, they fired guns all round to keep
everybody on the alert.

_November 16._--We are becoming accustomed to the daily visitation of
shells that do not burst, and perhaps familiarity is beginning to breed
carelessness. If so, the 40-pounder on Lombard's Kop gave us timely
reminder this morning that he is not to be ignored with impunity. One
shell thrown over the railway station burst in air, as it was intended
to do, and scattered its hail of shrapnel bullets about that building.
One guard, a white man, was killed on the spot or only breathed a few
minutes after being hit, and two Kaffir labourers were wounded. Scores
of bullets went into the station-master's office, and the desk at which
he generally sits was perforated like a cullender. In these times of
siege that official would not be always on duty, and he was just then
taking a lucky hour off. A Boer movement, probably of some convoy with
loot from down country, was going on along the road froth Bulwaan
towards Elandslaagte. Boer field guns covered it, keeping our scouts in
check on the plain, and riflemen created a diversion with pretence of an
attack on Observation Hill, which spluttered out slowly. Major Howard,
5th Dragoon Guards, has been recommended for the Victoria Cross in
recognition of his gallantry on "Mournful Monday," when, seeing a
trooper fall, he walked back where bullets were falling thick, and
brought the wounded man back on his shoulders in full view of several
regiments. The Boers, inappreciative of pluck in that form, kept up a
steady fire on the wounded trooper and his heroic officer until they
were safe out of range.

_November 17._--The 5th Lancers, who, with a company of King's Royal
Rifles, are holding Observation Hill, have hit upon a happy idea for
drawing Boer fire by deputy. They keep a man of straw for that purpose
with khaki coat and helmet. By showing this now and then, they not only
find out exactly where the Boers are, but get occasional chances of
putting in a pot shot with effect. The suggestion probably came from
Devonshire Hill, where Colonel Knox, who commands all divisional troops
on that defensive line, had a dummy battery mounted. This drew fire from
Boer guns at once, and gave Colonel Knox a good suggestion as to the
sort of earthworks best adapted to resist the artillery fire that could
be brought to bear upon them. At three o'clock this afternoon rain began
to fall steadily, and mists crept about the hills, putting a stop to
further bombardment.

_Sunday, November 19._--Just after midnight Boer guns again fired from
every position round Ladysmith. What this may mean nobody knows. Perhaps
it is a device for keeping Boer sentries on the alert, or there may have
been a false alarm causing the enemy's batteries to boom off a shot each
by way of signal, or probably the guns, fired at certain intervals, were
sending on a code message to Colenso. Rumours, having their origin in
the fertile imaginations of those who think that British troops can
achieve wonderful things for our relief, crowd fast upon us. Now we hear
of a column marching into Bloemfontein and an hour later men tell
gravely of a force under General French having captured Dundee But by
some means ill news travels faster even than these absurdly impossible
rumours. A Boer doctor has been to Intombi Camp this morning and told
the people there that our armoured train was captured yesterday of on
Friday near Colensa, and many prisoners taken, including Lord Randolph
Churchill's son. That was the doctor's way of cheering up our sick and
wounded. We might have doubted the story, but circumstances confirm it,
and we have so little faith in armoured trains that it seems quite
natural for them to fall into the enemy's hands.

_November 20._--Dense white mists rising from the river-bends, and
spreading across the plains to hang in a thinner haze about the shady
sides of hills, put a stop to bombardment most of the morning. Up to
noon there had been practically no shelling, but only an exchange of
rifle-shots between Bell's Spruit by Pepworth and Observation Hill. The
enemy, however, made up for lost time later by sending several shells
into town and camp. One fell near Captain Vallentin's house, where
Colonel Rhodes and Lord Ava shared the brigade mess; another, passing
close to Mr. Fortescue Carter's house, where several officers of the
Intelligence Staff live, shattered the church porch beyond; from
Surprise Hill several came into the 18th Hussar camp, where three men
were hit, one so badly that his leg had to be amputated; one into the
Gordon camp, wounding Lieutenant Maitland and a private; and one from
"Long Tom" of Pepworth's into the little group of tents that now serve
for all that are left here of the Royal Irish Fusiliers. This shot must
have been fired at a range of over 11,000 yards. It came down like a
bolt straight from the blue overhead, penetrated the stiff soil to a
depth of five feet seven inches, and rebounded on impact with some more
solid substance at the bottom so quickly that it left the mark of its
penetration perfect, and only broke up on reaching the surface again. In
this case there was no burst, but only a detonation of the fuse. After
nine at night we were astonished to see the beams of a searchlight
sweeping Observation Hill. Our foes apparently had got an engine on the
railway between Surprise Hill and Thornton's Kop with an electric light
attached to it. They are evidently prepared to bring against us all the
scientific appliances of modern warfare. Two hours later artillery and
rifle fire began, and continued for nearly an hour, but apparently
nobody was any the worse for it.

_November 21._--The cannonade begins again at daybreak with some shots
at our scouts, who are trying to feel their way out through the scrub
between Bulwaan and Lombard's Kop. The Boers have mounted a 40-pounder
high-velocity gun on the spur of the latter, and give us a taste of its
quality by throwing several shells into the Fusilier camp at Range Post
and bursting shrapnel over the town. The bombardment finishes about dusk
with some vicious shots from Bulwaan. After this we sit and watch the
lightning which plays in forks and zig-zags and chains about the hills
between us and Tugela River. For such picturesque effects there is a
great advantage in being encamped on a height, so that the whole
panorama of rugged kopjes, deep ravines where spruits or rivers sing,
silent camp, and sleeping town stretches round one, bounded only by an
amphitheatre of higher hills.

_November 22._--From half-past eleven last night there was heavy
musketry fire near the north-eastern line of our defensive works, and we
thought the Devons were being attacked hotly, but it turned out to be
nothing more than a fusilade from Boer rifles at some unknown objects.
Our foes are evidently getting a little jumpy and apprehensive of a
surprise by night. Sir George White sends out later a flag of truce to
protest against the persistent shelling of the Town Hall, where our sick
and wounded are lodged temporarily under the protection of a Red Cross
flag. Commandant Schalk-Burger is said to have replied somewhat
insolently that he understands the Geneva flag is being used by us to
shelter combatants. At any rate Intombi is the place for our sick and
wounded, and he will not respect any other hospital flag. Curiously
enough we accept this humiliation, so far as to remove the patients and
provide for them a camping-ground where the tents cannot be seen; but
the Red Cross flag still flies on the Town Hall. Again we watch the
beautiful effects of almost continuous lightning, brilliant as
moonlight, and then turn in before black clouds break in a terrific
thunderstorm. I have remarked before on the advantage of being on a hill
to watch the picturesque effects of a storm such as we have here. But
there are some disadvantages, especially if you have to sleep in a
patrol tent no higher than a fair-sized dog-kennel, and a tent-pole
happens to give way. Then you wake with wet canvas flapping about you.
The rain pours down in a deluge that makes you shiver at the mere
thought of turning out to put the tent-pole right. Let the rain drift
and the canvas flap with sounds like gunshots. It is better at any rate
than lying as Tommy does on the hillside yonder with only one blanket to
roll himself in, and with that thought, perhaps, you may be able to
cuddle yourself off to sleep again in spite of the storm.

_November 23._--Notwithstanding Sir George White's protest, Boer guns
are still laid to bear on the Town Hall, and shells frequently fall in
the enclosure near it, and have hit the building, sending splinters in
all directions, by one of which a dhoolie-bearer was killed. This seems
to me a scandalous violation of all the rules of civilised warfare,
which certainly entitle us to a field-hospital in addition to one at the
base. If Schalk-Burger had objected on the ground that the Town Hall so
long as it was used for sick and wounded came in the line of fire from
his guns to our batteries or defensive works, he would have been within
his rights, but all the same there would have been no truth in that
contention, and at any rate it rests with him to clear himself from the
charge of having fired on a Red Cross flag without warning. Meanwhile
other guns on Surprise Hill have been searching for the 18th Hussars in
their bivouac where Klip River runs through a deep ravine, and "Long
Tom" of Pepworth's has thrown a shell into Mrs. Davy's house, opposite
Captain Vallentin's, wounding its owner, who is the first woman hit,
though numbers of them, having got over their first panic, go about
their domestic duties all day as if there were no such thing as a
bombardment, and never think of taking shelter in a riverside cave now.
This shot brought upon "Long Tom" the vengeance of oar Naval Battery,
which must have battered him or his gunners severely.

All the afternoon Boer rifles have been dropping bullets into posts
held by the Rifle Brigade and Leicesters. Perhaps the men were showing
signs of being harassed when General Hunter visited them. With a laugh
he stood bolt upright on a rock, saying, "Now let us see whether these
Boers can shoot or not;" and there he remained in full view of them for
nearly a minute, while Mauser bullets hummed about him like a swarm of
wasps. Such an act may seem like senseless bravado, but those who know
Archibald Hunter well know that he had an object in giving this example
of coolness and pluck.

_November 24._--The Boers made a clever cattle-raid this morning. Twenty
spans of trek-oxen had been sent to graze on the veldt between our
outposts and Rifleman's Ridge in charge of Kaffir herd-boys. Slowly they
grazed towards better pasturage, nearer and nearer to the Boer lines,
from which shells in rapid succession were sent to burst just in rear of
the herds. Mounted infantry of the Leicesters attempted again and again,
to herd the cattle back, but they were met each time by heavy
rifle-fire, and at last two or three Boers dashing down the slope
rounded up herd after herd with the dexterity of expert "cow-boys." Thus
no less than 250 valuable trek-oxen fell into the enemy's hands, and we
had the humiliation of looking on helpless while it was being done.

The bombardment has been going on at intervals all day, from seven
o'clock this morning until dusk, when Bulwaan sent several shells on to
Junction Hill, killing three men of the Liverpool Regiment and wounding
eight. This is the most fatal half-hour we have experienced since the
siege began, but there was one lucky escape from a shell which burst in
the guard tent among four men without hurting any of them. For the
depression caused by these serious casualties there is some consolation
in the rumour that "Long Tom" of Pepworth's has been knocked out for
good and all. At any rate his last shot into the town was answered
effectively by the naval 4·7, which sent a shell straight into "Long
Tom's" embrasure, and he has not spoken or given any sign of life since.
Without wearisome iteration it would be impossible to do justice day by
day to the good work of the Naval Brigade under Captain Lambton. Without
the heavy guns of H.M.S. _Powerful_ our state here would be much worse
than it is, and everybody in besieged Ladysmith appreciates the
bluejackets, who are always cheery, always ready for any duty, and whose
good shooting has done much to keep down the fire of Boer artillery.

_November 25._--No hostilities disturb the quietness of morning or early
afternoon, but it is never safe to count on this, and look-out men are
kept constantly on the alert in each camp to give warning by sound of
high whistle or gong when one of the big guns has been fired. Against
"Silent Susan" such precautions avail nothing, for she wears no
white-cloud signal--the flash of discharge can only be seen if you
happen to be looking for it intently in the right place. Close upon the
heels of her report comes a shrill, fiendish whisper in the air, and by
the time you hear that, the shell is overhead or has burst elsewhere.
The Gordons and Imperial Light Horse, however, are not to be debarred
from sport by considerations of that kind. They take all reasonable
precautions and leave the rest to chance, with the result that they
snatch some amusement out of circumstances that seem unpromising. This
afternoon the Gordons had a Gymkhana, and got through it merrily to the
entertainment of many friends before a discordant note was heard from
Boer batteries. The bombardment did not begin until half-past six, and
lasted only until dusk, the final shot being fired by our naval gun into
some new works on Bulwaan.

_November 26._--The Boers are busy preparing an emplacement for heavy
artillery on Middle Hill, south of and flanking Bester's Ridge.
Apparently they suspect us of doing similar work on the plain in front
of Devonshire Hill, and their strict regard for the Sabbath does not run
to toleration of Sunday labour on our part, so they send three shells in
among some Kaffirs who are digging trenches with the harmless object of
burying dead horses there.

_November 27._--The Boers, grown bold with the success of their first
raid, try another--this time with the object of cutting out horses that
graze loose on the plain towards Bulwaan. But they have to do now with
Natal Carbineers, many of whom, like themselves, are veldt farmers,
familiar with every trick of rounding up horses or oxen. In vain do the
gunners of "Puffing Billy" throw percussion shells to drive the herd
towards their lines. In vain are shrapnels timed to burst in a shower
where Carbineers sweep round like Indian scouts to herd the startled
horses back. The Volunteers do their work neatly, coolly, quickly, to
the chagrin of Boers who wait in kloofs beyond Klip River for a chance
of carrying off some valuable horses. In their disappointment the
Bulwaan battery tries to get some consolation by shelling the camp of
the Carbineers. The new gun which Boers were mounting yesterday on
Middle Hill opened to-day, shelling first the Rifle Brigade piquets on
King's Post and then the sangar of the Manchesters in Cæsar's Camp. It
enfilades both positions with equal ease.

The Rifles had a narrow escape as they were at work on a wall, the top
of which was struck by a shell, and splinters flew all round without
hitting anybody. The Manchesters were not so fortunate, having three men
wounded, but none seriously. While I write, smoking concerts are being
held in the camps of Imperial Light Horse and Natal Volunteers, from
whose strong lungs the notes of "God Save the Queen" roll in a volume
that can be heard a mile off. Perhaps some faint echoes of it may stir
the air about sleeping Boers on Bulwaan.

_November 28._--A misty morning with rain, which does not prevent the
enemy from sending a few shots into town. Middle Hill, Rifleman's
Ridge, Telegraph Hill, with its three 9-pounders, which the Rifle
Brigade men, for quaint reasons of their own, name Faith, Hope, and
Charity, all have a turn at us, and our batteries reply; but there is
not much vigour in it on either side until Middle Hill, with its Creusot
94-pounder, and the howitzer on Surprise Hill, begin to shell our naval
12-pounders. There they touch Captain Lambton on a tender point, and he
lets them have it back with a will. To-day we have been cheered by news
of the victory over the Boers near Mooi River, but for Natal people
satisfaction is dashed by the thought that if Boers are so far down they
have raided the most fertile part of the Colony, and probably carried
off pedigree cattle that are priceless.

_November 29._--The night has been passed in preparing a surprise for
the big Creusot gun on Middle Hill, which, because of his propensity for
throwing shells into everybody's mess, has come to be known as the
"Meddler." Deep gun-pits are dug on the northern slope of Waggon Hill,
where on a nek they are screened by the higher spur from view of Middle
Hill. In these pits two old-fashioned howitzers, throwing shells with
sixty pounds of black powder for bursting charge, are mounted. Captain
Christie, R.A., takes command of them and waits his chance, which does
not come for a long time, the cannonade being at first confined to a
duel between Captain Lambton's pet, "Lady Anne," and "Puffing Billy" of
Bulwaan. At length, however, the "Meddler" chimes in, and Captain
Christie immediately looses off his two howitzers in succession. They
cannot be laid by sights on the object aimed at, which is hidden from
view. All has to be done by calculation of angles, and a fraction of
error may make all the difference. So we watch anxiously while the
shell--a long time in flight--follows its allotted parabola. One bursts
just short of the work; but its companion, a second later, goes over the
parapet and sends debris flying upwards in a mighty cloud. Thereupon the
howitzers are christened promptly "The Great Twin Brethren," "Castor and
Pollux," and "Puffing Pals," everybody selecting the name that appeals
to his imagination most strongly. It matters little by what name men
call them, so long as they can throw shells truly into the enemy's
battery, and this they do steadily. The "Meddler" cannot reply to them
effectively, and other Boer guns try in vain to reach them. At night a
curious palpitating light on the clouds southward attracts attention.
One Rifle Brigade man who has a smattering of the Morse Code watches it
for some time and mutters to himself, "X.X.X. Why, they're calling us
up"; and before a signalman can be roused we see clearly enough these
palpitations resolving themselves into dots and dashes. It is a signal
from the south, flashed by searchlight across miles of intervening
hills, but in a cypher which only those who have the key can read.

[Illustration: THE BRITISH POSITION AT LADYSMITH, LOOKING NORTH TOWARDS
RIETFONTEIN AND THE NEWCASTLE ROAD]

_November 30._--Day breaks across white mists on the plain, and then
comes gorgeous sunshine, with a glow of colour all round, brilliant
orange in the east above Bulwaan, deepening to blood-red in the west
behind the rugged crest of Mount Tintwa and the pitted peaks of Mont aux
Sources. From daybreak onward there is heavy artillery fire on camp and
town from every gun the Boers have mounted. Our howitzers and the
"Meddler" began it with a merry little set-to between themselves, doing
no harm. Then Surprise Hill, Telegraph Hill, Rifleman's Ridge, Bulwaan,
and Lombard's Kop joined in, the last aiming straight for the hospital,
with its Red Cross flag. Two shells had fallen close to that building,
from which all haste was made to remove the helpless patients. Most of
them had been got out when the third shot came crashing into the largest
ward, and from among the ruins one dead man and nine freshly wounded
were taken. Rifle fire quickened then about Observation Hill, and
bullets flying overhead made many think that the Boers were coming on,
but it all died away into silence without further casualties on our
side. At night the column southward flashes another long signal on the
clouded sky, and Boer search-lights try to obliterate it by throwing
their feeble rays across the beam that shines like a comet athwart the
darkness above Tugela heights.

_December 1._--"Long Tom" of Pepworth's Hill, which has not fired since
"Lady Anne" silenced it days ago, is now reported to be cracked and
useless, but the Boers are preparing emplacements for another heavy
piece of ordnance on a flat-topped nether spur of Lombard's Kop, where
they have a persistently disagreeable 40-pounder already mounted. We do
nothing to prevent this increase of hostile artillery, but content
ourselves with inventing new names for the batteries, so that the
intelligence map may be kept up to date with fullest details. This spur
henceforth is to be known as Gun Hill, probably because the weapon
already in position there has made itself conspicuously unpleasant by
shelling the headquarters and intelligence offices. From it three
successive shells were fired this morning into or near the convent where
Colonel Dick-Cunyngham, Major Riddell, and other convalescent wounded
have their quarters. Middle Hill gun only fired a few rounds to-day, and
was promptly silenced by our "Great Twin Brethren," the howitzers of
Waggon Hill.

_December 2._--We are not left long in doubt as to the meaning of those
new works on Gun Hill. A Creusot 94-pounder has opened from there,
shelling in rapid succession Sir George White's headquarters camp, the
Royal Artillery, and the Imperial Light Horse, who have their parade and
playground pitted by marks of this fire. People say that "Long Tom" has
been shifted from Pepworth's to the new position, but the shells, with
their driving-bands grooved deep and sharp, tell another story. It is a
new gun, or little used, and probably fresh from Pretoria. Its range is
great, and gives easy command of the ravine in which our cavalry are
bivouacked by the riverside. One shell has already burst there, wounding
a man of the 18th Hussars, but fortunately the enemy cannot see the
result of this fire, the river for a mile in length being screened from
his view by intervening hills.

_December 4._--One may skip Sunday when it is uneventful in its perfect
peace, as yesterday was, and be deeply thankful for the rest that is
given to us once a week when shells cease from troubling. The weather
has changed suddenly from brilliant sunshine and almost tropical heat to
cloudy skies that send the temperature down to shivering point. Few
shells fell in the town this morning, when groups gathered at street
corners discussing rumours of Lord Methuen's victory on Modder River,
which are now officially confirmed. General Clery is also said to have
defeated the Boers near Estcourt, but if so he did not get back the
cattle they had looted, for we have watched them for hours driving great
herds from southward up the roads that lead to Van Reenan's Pass.

Our batteries here have for once been most aggressive, shelling the
enemy's position at Rifleman's Ridge vigorously, while the howitzers
directed their fire on Middle Hill without drawing a reply from the
6-inch Creusot, which Captain Christie and his gunners believe to have
been put out of action completely. His twin brother, "Puffing Billy" of
Bulwaan, was also silenced for a time, but has come back to quite his
old form this evening, and threw several shells into the town and camps,
where troops assembled to cheer the news of Lord Methuen's victory when
it was read out in general orders.

_December 5._--The bombardment has been slack again to-day: all the
enemy's big guns silent. But there is great movement among the Boers,
who are apparently holding a great council of war at General Joubert's
headquarters. This may account for rumours of dissensions between the
Free State and Transvaal commandos.

_December 6._--Now we know what the firing of Boer guns all round
Ladysmith at midnight of 19th November meant. It was a night alarm
magnified by imagination into a desperate sortie from Ladysmith, and a
correspondent of the _Diggers' News_ telegraphed his version of the
affair in glowing terms to that paper, giving full details of things
that never happened. A copy just received in camp causes much amusement.
Reference to my notes for the 19th of last month will show that we were
at perfect peace here. Not a man of this force except the ordinary
patrols moved on the night when we are reported to have made that
strenuous but futile effort to break through the enemy's lines, and not
a shot was fired on our side. The Boers must have been startled at their
own shadows or at the movements of a subaltern's patrol which they
magnified into an army, and having beat the big drum they perhaps tried
to justify themselves by sending that cock-and-bull story to Pretoria.

To-night our troops are out for exercise, marching through the streets,
and singing or whistling merrily as they march. If the Boers get word of
this they may have another scare. The daily bombardment is now so much a
matter of course that one hardly makes a note of it unless some casualty
brings home to us the fact that nobody is safe while shells fly about.

_December 7._--During a heavy cannonade in which our naval batteries
engaged Gun Hill and Bulwaan from six o'clock until ten this morning,
women and children were walking about the streets quite unconcerned.
Hundreds of shells have already fallen in the town, and there are some
zealous statisticians who compile charts showing exactly where each
shell struck and the direction from which it was fired, but the majority
of us do not concern ourselves much about any that burst beyond a radius
of fifty yards from our own camps or houses, and so many fall harmless
that we seldom ask whether anybody has been hit, and it sometimes
happens therefore that one does not hear of serious casualties except by
accident. It comes rather as a surprise to find that our losses since
the siege began, thirty-six days ago, amount to thirteen killed and one
hundred and forty-eight wounded. A battle might have been won at less
cost.

This evening the 6-inch Creusot on Gun Hill was very active, directing
its fire toward headquarters at first, and then turning it on a building
which has just been selected for the new Post Office, to be opened when
communications are restored. It had a narrow escape of being blown to
ruins by a shell that entered through the roof and exploded inside.



CHAPTER VII

THE SORTIES OF DECEMBER

     Retribution--Sir Archibald Hunter's bold scheme--A night
     attack--Silently through the darkness--At the foot of Gun Hill--A
     broken ascent--"Wie kom dar?" "The English are on us!"--Major
     Henderson thrice wounded--Destroying "Leviathan"--Hussars suffer
     under fire--Rejoicings in town--Sir George White's address to the
     troops--Boer compliments--A raid for provender--A second
     sortie--The Rifles' bold enterprise--An unwelcome light--Cutting
     the wires--Surprise Hill reached--The sentry's challenge--The
     Rifles' charge--Boer Howitzer destroyed--The return to
     camp--Cutting the way home--Serious losses.


     This constant shelling of the town could not go on for ever without
     some attempt being made to stop it. Mr. Pearse had himself urged
     the practicability of capturing or putting out of action at close
     quarters the Boer big gun which could not be dealt with by our
     shell-fire. This was now to be done. The Creusot gun just mounted
     on Gun Hill, which like its neighbours had been given a name and
     endowed with a personality by the nimble-witted among the garrison,
     was to pay the penalty of its crimes, and the enterprise of which
     this was the result formed one of the most brilliant incidents in
     the history of the siege.

Probably (writes Mr. Pearse) no corps within our lines has been more
deliberately shelled than the Imperial Light Horse, who were driven out
of one camp by "Long Tom" of Pepworth's Hill, only to pitch their tents
by the river bank within sight of "Puffing Billy's" gunners, who had got
the range from Bulwaan to a nicety, so that they could pitch shell after
shell into the new encampment. Even their "Long Tom" also still pounded
at them by way of varying the monotony of a daily duel with our naval
guns. But the most annoying fire of all came from the newly-mounted
6-inch Creusot on Little Bulwaan, which, for the sake of distinction, is
known officially as Gun Hill, in front of Lombard's Kop. Having an
effective range that enables it to search with shell every part of our
camp that is visible, this weapon fired first in one direction, then in
another, changing its aim so frequently that nobody could predict where
the next shell might fall until it came hurtling through the air, in
dangerous proximity, with a sound that suggests the half-throttled
scream of a steam siren, and it generally finished, as it began, with a
few shots at the Imperial Light Horse, or their near neighbours the
Gordon Highlanders.

I do not know whether the idea of putting an end to the career of this
worrying monster originated at headquarters, or grew out of the wish,
frequently expressed by Imperial Light Horse and Natal Volunteers, to
"have a go" at the enemy's guns--Sir George White has given the credit
to General Sir Archibald Hunter, and such an enterprise is worthy of
the man who stormed the Dervish stronghold at Abu Hamed, and led his
troops up to the flame of rifle fire that fringed Mahmud's zeriba on the
Atbara. He kept the whole scheme so secret that he did not even let his
aide-de-camp know anything about it until some time after dinner last
night. Then he sent round a brief message to Colonel Royston commanding
the Volunteer Forces of Natal, and to Colonel Edwardes of the Imperial
Light Horse. In accordance with this order the troops detailed got under
arms very quietly, taking all the ammunition they could carry, but
leaving their horses and cumbersome equipment in the lines, for Sir
Archibald had wisely resolved that all taking part in this expedition
must march the five miles out, and get back as best they could on foot,
neither troop horses nor officers' chargers being allowed to join the
column. Lord Ava, who is attached to Brigadier-General Hamilton's staff,
happened to be a guest of the Light Horse. Getting an inkling of some
mysterious movement, for which officers were arming themselves like
their men with rifles, he stole away to get a night free from galloper's
duties, shouldered a Lee-Enfield, crammed a bandolier full of
cartridges, and came back in time to join the ranks before they marched
off.

It was then past ten o'clock; the crescent moon was "sloping slowly
towards the west" behind a bank of dark clouds, and in another hour the
faint light would have gone, giving place to a gloom that makes rocks,
trees, rough knolls, and deep dongas one shapeless black. General
Hunter's instructions were brief and simple, silence being the point
most strongly insisted on. For the rest, Imperial Light Horse and
Carbineers, to whom he entrusted the attack, were to follow their guides
and keep line if possible. These two corps contributed about one hundred
men each. The Border Mounted Rifles, Natal Volunteers, and a small field
force of Colonel Dartnell's Border Police, making altogether about four
hundred, were to be in reserve, the Border Mounted furnishing supports
and pushing them up the hill as each step in the ascent was gained. The
fourteen guides, with Major Henderson of the Intelligence branch as
staff officer, went ahead, and then the column moved off silently, the
order being passed from section to section in whispers. The Boers, five
miles off, would not have heard if a full band had played the
adventurous six hundred out; but we know that there are Boer emissaries
still in camp who might, by preconcerted signal, have given the alarm if
the unusual movement had aroused them and their suspicions. It was well,
therefore, to let such sleeping dogs lie. So the column marched in
silence along town roads, where nearly every house is deserted, and deep
dust muffled the tread of many feet until they were clear of the town,
and passing our outposts on Helpmakaar Hill. The forms of massed men
could be made out dimly where the Devon battalion rested under arms,
ready to give assistance in case of any reverse.

From that point the Helpmakaar road leads straight round a scrubby nek
where the Boers have thrown up a formidable series of earthworks. To
avoid these, the column struck off across open veldt into a hollow where
men had to feel their way among stunted bushes of the "Wacht een bichte"
thorn, and across dongas where the sandy banks crumbled under weights
incautiously placed, and slid down with men into depths of six feet or
more. After floundering about there they climbed out again to re-form
with such regularity as was possible in the circumstances. But for the
guides, who seemed to know every inch of ground, right directions would
almost inevitably have been lost. As it was, however, they reached the
foot of Little Bulwaan (or Gun Hill) at twenty minutes to two, and
preparations were made for an immediate assault lest daylight should
come before the work could be accomplished. Everybody knew full well how
impossible it would be to get away from the position without terrible
losses, if the Boers could see to shoot It was pretty well known that
not many of them occupied Gun Hill, but the number encamped within reach
of it was a matter of pure speculation, dependent on the accuracy of
Kaffir stories which might be true of one day, but quite untrustworthy
twenty-four hours later; so rapid are the Boers in their movements, if
they get any suspicion that an attack is impending.

Notwithstanding the difficulties of keeping touch across rough ground,
where silence was imposed, the different detachments, each with a guide
to lead it, marched so quietly that not a word was spoken, and all
arrived at their proper posts in admirable order, worthy of trained
troops. That, however, became somewhat broken as the ascent began, and
little wonder, for the boulders, rounded and worn smooth by the storms
of ages, were slippery to tread on, and occasionally a man's foot would
become wedged between them in a deep cleft. Here and there progress was
painfully slow, and the hill so steep that it had to be climbed on hands
and knees. The higher they climbed the worse it became, until, as one
man describing his own experiences said, they were like a lot of lizards
crawling over rocks. Half-way up the hill they had a narrow escape from
stumbling on a Boer picket. The sentry heard if he did not see the line
of crouching figures that passed him like ghosts in the darkness with
stealthy steps that must have sounded weird across the night stillness.
In a voice huskily vibrant, he challenged, "Wie kom dar?" Getting no
reply, he called again twice in louder tones, and then fired his rifle
at nothing in particular. Then, the whole picket waking, or beginning to
realise that danger was near, let off a volley, and voices were heard
shouting to comrades on the ridge. "The English are on us, Hans, Carl.
Shoot! shoot!" A few shots came from so close to one flank of the
Imperial Light Horse that Boers must have been lying there almost under
the feet of our men, if they did not actually join the ranks for a time
to escape detection. But a sound greeted their ears at that moment, and
knowing what it meant, they scampered downhill without waiting to hear
more. It was a ringing British cheer followed by strident commands to
"Fix bayonets and give the devils cold steel." Begun by Major Karri
Davis, the order ran along from Imperial Light Horse to Carbineers, who
had not a bayonet amongst them, for irregular mounted infantry in this
country do not carry such weapons. But they struck the butts of their
rifles on rocks, and made a great clatter as if preparing for a bayonet
charge, and cheered again and again for a good deal more than their
actual numbers, while crags on each hand tossed the shouts to and fro in
a mighty tumult. This was apparently too much for the small number of
Boers who held the crest. Letting off bullets in rapid succession, until
the magazines were exhausted, they turned and bolted, having hit only
ten of our men, one of whom, the tallest trooper in the Imperial Light
Horse, was badly wounded. In proportion to their numbers the guides
suffered most, having four out of fourteen hit, though none very
severely. The worst wound of all was from an explosive bullet similar to
those used in Express rifles for big-game shooting, and many missiles of
the same kind were seen to burst with a flash like shells as they
struck on stones round about, thus proving that the use of explosive
bullets by Boers is not quite so rare as most of us have believed
hitherto. Major Henderson received three wounds from buck-shot or
"loupalin," one of which penetrated deeply, but caused so little shock
at the time that he was able to keep pace with the best uphill.
Nevertheless, "scatter guns" are not weapons proper to be used in
warfare between civilised combatants.

Halting for a brief breathing space, now and again, at General Hunter's
command, then following with all the speed they could muster where he
and his aide-de-camp, Major King, led the Imperial Light Horse on the
left, the Carbineers on their right made a final dash for the steepest
climb of all, and, breathless, gained the ridge, to find that the Boers
had quitted it, leaving not a man in defence of the guns. A great stroke
of luck befell the Imperial Light Horse, who crossed the heights with
their left flank opposite a Boer 12-pounder and Maxim gun. The latter
they made a clean capture of, but the field-piece, being too heavy for
them to carry off, was left to the tender mercies of the engineers, who
soon had bracelets of gun-cotton round it, and the breech-pieces damaged
beyond repair.

Meanwhile the right flank was sweeping round towards the main battery in
expectation of meeting with some resistance from the gun's crew of "Big
Ben of Little Bulwaan." That weapon had, in virtue of similar qualities,
succeeded to "Long Tom's" second title, but did not live long to enjoy
it. The end of his active career was at hand when the Light Horse made
their dash for him and found that he had been deserted by all his
friends. It was poetical justice that Colonel Edwardes and Major Karri
Davis of the corps which Big Ben had shelled most persistently should be
first to lay hands on him and claim every part that could be taken away
as a rightful trophy for the Imperial Light Horse. But Major Henderson,
in spite of his wounds, General Sir Archibald Hunter, and Major King
were in the redoubt at that moment, and therefore the honours are
divided. Doctor Platt, of the Border Mounted, claims to have been among
the first four in. Some of the Carbineers are also under the impression
that they captured a gun, and though there is nothing to show for it,
they deserve full credit for an important share in the night's success.
A line was formed in rear of the battery, while engineers put rings of
gun-cotton round Big Ben's muzzle and breech. Then fuses were set
alight, and our men retired hastily beyond reach of the imminent
explosion. After that engineers and artillerymen went back to make sure
that their work had not been bungled, and saw with satisfaction that the
gun-cotton had rent great holes through Big Ben's breech in two places,
rendering him totally unfit for foreign service. This was the crowning
act of a great achievement, and the force that had aided in its
accomplishment marched back to camp triumphantly just as day broke.

As a precautionary measure, in case there should be a reverse, and with
the object also of cutting off any fugitive Boers who might fly
panic-stricken from Gun Hill, the 19th Hussars had gone earlier to make
a demonstration by way of Limit Hill, towards Modder's Spruit, and
destroy some Boer stores. With characteristic faith in the luck that has
favoured bold cavalry enterprises so often, they pushed far forward and
gained some valuable information at the risk of being cut off, but
fortunately that did not happen. Meanwhile the 18th, jealous for the
great reputation they have won as scouts, attempted a movement even more
hazardous. In advance of General Brocklehurst's reconnoitring force one
squadron of this regiment made straight for a position which the enemy
was believed to hold in strength between Pepworth's and Surprise Hill.
To do this they crossed near a deep cutting through which the Harrismith
railway passes, and there came under a terribly heavy fire, against
which even their hardihood was not proof. Retiring, they made a detour
to avoid unnecessary exposure, and swept round two small kopjes, where
not a Boer had been seen previously. But, as it happened, the stony
ridges were full of riflemen, who, without emerging from their
concealment, brought a furious fusillade to bear on the Hussars, who had
to run the gauntlet at full speed, all but one, and he, with gallant
self-sacrifice, rode straight towards the nearer kopje, drawing the
whole fire on himself, and thus giving his comrades time to get clear.
Fortunately not a bullet touched him as he wheeled about, lay flat on
his saddle-bow, and galloped after the squadron. Its retreat was covered
by a very pretty movement of the main body and by salvos of shrapnel
from our field batteries, with the naval guns chiming in. Then the
reconnoitring force slowly withdrew across the plain towards Junction
Hill, still under a rifle fire heavier even than we had to face on the
slopes of Elandslaagte, though not so well directed. Several saddles,
however, were emptied, bringing our losses in this affair up to five
killed and seventeen wounded. Of these considerably more than half were
18th Hussars, whose ranks have been seriously thinned since they marched
to Dundee less than eight weeks ago.

In camps and town everybody is elated to-day. Casting aside the sombre
garb that was suitable to retirement, ladies have come forth clad in
raiment that is festively bright to go a-shopping, as if there were no
such things as shells to disturb them, and no cares greater than
feminine frivolities. If the siege were at an end, and peace within
sight, we could hardly be more joyously animated, and all because two
hundred gallant fellows, led by a dashing General, have shown how Boer
positions may be captured at night, and Boer siege guns silenced for
ever with small loss.

Sir George White ordered special parades for the afternoon of all
volunteers, guides, Irregular Horse, and Frontier Police Force who had
taken part in the attack on Gun Hill. Each corps had its own appointed
place for the ceremony, and Sir George visited them in turn to
congratulate them on their brilliant achievement. For the guides, who
are attached as scouts, interpreters, and field orderlies to the
Intelligence Staff, the General had special words of praise. Without
their valuable aid the enterprise might have been doomed to failure, and
he expressed high appreciation of their gallantry, not less than of the
skill they had shown in guiding a column over difficult ground when
there was not light enough to make a single landmark visible except the
sky-line of Gun Hill. To the Imperial Light Horse he paid an equally
flattering tribute. As the men of three companies were drawn up in line
to receive him, "Puffing Billy" tried to put a spoke in their wheel by
sending a shell very near one flank, and the line was accordingly broken
into close column with a short front, so that it be hidden by house and
trees from sight of the gunners on Bulwaan. At that moment Sir George
White, with General Sir Archibald Hunter, General Brocklehurst, and a
number of staff officers, rode to the ground, and were received by a
general salute, to which the presence of two or three wounded men with
arms in blood-stained slings gave emphasis, as they had no rifles
wherewith to shoulder and present.

The officers on parade were Colonel Edwardes, commanding, Major Karri
Davis, Major Doveton, Lieutenant Fitzgerald, adjutant, Captain Fowler,
commanding F Company, Captain Mullins, B Company, and Captain
Codrington, E Company, with their subalterns, Lieutenants Brooking,
Normand, Matthias, Pakeman, Kirk, and Huntley, all of whom had been in
the fight except Major Doveton, who volunteered for it, but was
compelled to stay in camp for field-officer's duties. His seniors had
the privilege of first choice, and insisted on it, so there was nothing
left for him but submission to the inevitable. As a tribute to the men
whose heroic achievement is the brightest episode in this long siege,
Sir George White's soldierly speech will interest readers at home.
Addressing Colonel Edwardes, he said:

"General Hunter, who planned and carried out the very successful
movement of this morning, has reported to me the very efficient help
that he received from the men of the Imperial Light Horse as well as the
other corps who were employed. When he told me last night that he was
anxious to have a shy at the gun on Gun Hill, there was one thing that I
determined on, and that was, that I would give him the best support that
I could. I knew I could trust you to help on account of your knowledge
of the business which you have taken in hand in this campaign, and on
account of your bravery and your steadiness. I was also confident of
your intelligent individual action in case there might be any
difficulty to overcome. I have come here to express to you my
appreciation of the value of the work you did last night, and also to
thank you for it. It will be a great pleasure to me to report to General
Sir Redvers Buller, whose name brings confidence wherever it is
mentioned, on the work you have done, not only on this occasion, but on
every occasion when it has been my good luck to have your assistance. I
have no doubt there is a great deal more hard fighting before us, and my
only hope is that you will do as well in the future as in the past, so
that I may be able to say at the end of this campaign as I now say in
the middle of it, that your behaviour is an honour not only to your own
country and colony, but to the whole empire. Colonel Edwardes, I don't
wish to keep you any longer, owing to the circumstance that 'Long Tom'
of Bulwaan may interfere in this conference, but once more I thank you
one and all."

Lusty cheers were then given for Sir George White, General Hunter,
General Brocklehurst, and Colonel Edwardes. Sir George White's
appreciation of the heroic achievement is shared by Boer leaders, and in
their case it is all the more flattering because expressed while they
are smarting under the humiliation of a great loss. Dr. Davis, with
another medical officer and some ambulance men, went up Gun Hill at
daybreak under a flag of truce, to look after the wounded men who could
not be found when their comrades came down in the dark. Giving no heed
to the Geneva Cross, some Boers made Dr. Davis and his companions
prisoners, and they were taken before Commandant Schalk-Burger, who
received them with scant courtesy at first. In the end, however, he paid
a great compliment to the Light Horse on their plucky deed. One Boer
officer who stood by said he thought they all deserved the Victoria
Cross, and another showed familiarity with English habits of thought by
describing the night attack as "a devilish sporting thing." They wanted
to know who led it, and the answer has given Sir Archibald Hunter a
place in Boer estimation among the British soldiers whom they would
rather meet as friends than as enemies.

The Imperial Light Horse are celebrating their achievement by a
brilliant gathering to-night, and have feasted their guests on so many
good things that one begins to doubt whether there can be much scarcity
in camp, though ordinary articles of food, and especially drink, are
running up rapidly to famine prices.

Plenty in the Imperial Light Horse larder may however be accounted for
by success in another night attack about which one did not hear so much,
though it was carried out with characteristic dash as a preliminary to
the greater enterprise that followed twenty-four hours later. One
company of the Imperial Light Horse, being on outpost duty south of
Waggon Hill, had conceived the idea of a midnight raid on Bester's Farm,
whence the Boers, after an effective occupation of several weeks, had
retired, leaving a Red Cross flag still attached to a thorn bush in the
garden, by way of suggesting that poultry and pigs should be regarded as
under the protection of the Geneva Convention. They did not go far,
however, and parties of them came down to the farm nearly every night
for supplies. The Light Horse, having impartial minds, thought they
might as well "chip in" for some of the good things. So they made their
raid, and came back laden with provender. Much of this they distributed
with a liberality that has won for them and for all Natal Volunteers
concurrently the title of "friendlies," which will certainly stick as
long as British troops and Colonial Irregulars campaign together. Some
fat turkeys were part of the loot, and they helped to make a right royal
feast to-night, when the gallant "friendlies" had their cup of happiness
filled by warm congratulations from the Gordons, the Devons, and every
cavalry regiment with which they are brigaded.

     Such brilliant achievements as the above might, it was soon felt,
     be more difficult in future, the enemy having been put upon his
     guard; but all the good-comradeship in the world could not prevent
     some jealousy being felt, and nobody can pretend to regret that a
     spirit of noble emulation has thus been roused. There had never
     been any lack of men ready for work of that kind from the first day
     of investment. Devons and Gordons had volunteered weeks before to
     take the Boer guns from which the defenders suffered most
     annoyance, any night the General might give them permission; but
     those fine battalions were wanted for important duties in the
     purely defensive scheme, and so they had to lie behind earthworks
     or in bomb-proof structures, half tent, half cave, shelled when
     they ventured to move out by day, kept on the alert through many
     hours of weary night, and called to arms again an hour before dawn.
     They had shown--and the same is true of every corps and detachment
     in the garrison--the most splendid endurance. Indeed, the only
     signs of impatience seen among the troops were the outcome of an
     eager desire to be led out against the enemy, that they might get
     some satisfaction for the losses and annoyance to which they had
     been subjected from the long-range fire of Boer artillery.

     Now, however, the regulars, who had long been ready for any
     service, in view of the brilliant performance of the irregulars,
     regarded inaction as a slur upon their particular regiments. The
     feeling resulted in a second attempt being made, this time to
     destroy the enemy's big gun on Surprise Hill. Though it failed to
     win an equal success, it was a hardly less brilliant performance,
     and forms another engrossing page in Mr. Pearse's story. Writing on
     11th December, he thus describes the enterprise from its  inception:--

Lieut.-Colonel Metcalfe of the 2nd Rifle Brigade gave expression
yesterday to a general desire that the regulars should be allowed a
chance to prove their mettle, by sending to Sir George White a request
that his battalion might be allowed to attack the Boer position on
Surprise Hill and silence the howitzer there. This request had to be
sanctioned by Brigadier-General Howard, who, as an old Rifle Brigade
officer, was nothing loth to add strong reasons why the step should be
taken. Other corps might be panting for opportunities of distinction,
but the Rifle Brigade, having held the post on Cove Hill which now bears
its name under fire from this howitzer for weeks past, had a right to
claim that their chance should come first.

Sir George White, fully appreciating Colonel Metcalfe's plea of
privilege and the spirit that animated it, gave consent at once, and
left Colonel Metcalfe free to carry out his plan unhampered by any
conditions save those of ordinary military prudence. He did not even
give the direction of it to a staff officer, and though the Intelligence
Department furnished guides it took no active part in the affair, for
the success or failure of which Colonel Metcalfe alone held himself
responsible. Major Altham saw the column off and accompanied it for some
distance, but only as a spectator, and that no farther than the initial
stage, beyond which everything was shrouded in darkness. The new moon,
sinking behind heavy clouds, gave little light when the men fell into
rank by companies for their march. There were about 450 rifles all told.
To these must be added two small detachments of artillery and engineers,
taking with them charges of gun-cotton. The whole command numbered no
more than 469, and they were going for one of the strongest Boer
positions by which our force is ringed about.

Captain Gough's company was detached to lead the right assault, and
Major Thesiger's the left, each having with it a section of C Company.
Captains Paley and Stephens were to bring their companies close up in
support, while Lieutenant Byrne was in command of E Company, forming the
reserve. Only a small detachment of ambulance men with four stretchers
followed the column as it moved off a few minutes after ten o'clock,
across open ground by Observation Hill, and turned westward towards its
objective, which could just be seen, a dim rounded mass like a darker
cloud in the dark sky. The guides Ashby and Thornhill had no difficulty
in finding their way without other landmarks, for every inch of the
ground is familiar to them both. An unlooked-for obstacle, however,
presented itself as they neared the nek that joins Thornhill's Kop with
Rietfontein on Pepworth's Ridge. A break in clouds that hung behind
Surprise Hill let light through from the crescent moon that was still
well above the rugged Drakensberg Crags.

In that light, subdued though it was, a man crossing the nek would have
shown up sharply, and Boer sentries always keep well down where they can
watch the sky-line. Our troops, naturally anxious not to discover
themselves prematurely, lay down in a convenient donga and waited for
darkness. There they had to lie an hour or longer, until the nearest
ridges were again merged in the gloom of their surroundings, and the
more distant hills became vague shadows, perceptible only to the second
sight of men who are familiar with Nature in all aspects. Then the
column, moving silently, advanced towards the railway line, which few
could see until they were stopped by the barbed wire that fences it on
each side. The necessity for cutting this was another awkward hindrance.
All officers, however, had come provided for such an emergency with
wire-nippers. The anxiety was painfully tense as men listened to the
sharp click of these instruments, and heard the severed wires drop with
a clatter that struck harp-like across the deep silence, and went
vibrating along the fence towards a Boer camp where perhaps some sentry,
more alert than his comrades, might catch the meaning of such sounds. No
alarm followed, however, as the work of wire-cutting went on across the
railway and from enclosure to enclosure, care being taken to bend the
wires only in one place so that they could be bent back, leaving a space
just wide enough for successive companies in fours to defile through.

Thus by slow degrees they gained the foot of Surprise Hill, and began
the difficult ascent. Colonel Metcalfe, and probably most of his men,
expected that they would have been met by Boer rifle fire long before
this and compelled to win their way with the bayonet. It seemed almost
impossible to believe that the Boers, after one sharp lesson, would keep
no better watch than to let us creep up to their stronghold unopposed.
Suddenly a challenge "Wie kom dar?" rang out from half-way up the hill.
Silence would serve no longer, and indeed it had been broken again and
again by the clang of iron-heeled boots on loose stones. So the order to
fix swords was given, and passed in stentorian tones along the front.
Sword-bayonets rattled sharply against rifle barrels to show that there
was no deception this time, and then with lusty cheers the assaulting
companies sprang forward, floundering at times in deep clefts between
boulders, then re-forming to continue their advance, while the supports
and reserves fell as quickly as they could into the formation that is
roughly indicated in the accompanying diagram. That plan had been
adopted to guard against flank attacks by the oblique fire from two
companies, between which an opening was left for the assaulting
companies to retire through in case of reverses. But neither flank
attack nor reverses came at this critical point. Major Thesiger and
Captain Gough, following their respective guides, gained the crest
before their enemies had time to fire many shots from magazine rifles,
and the battery was won. But it contained neither gun nor gunners. Was
the whole expedition therefore fruitless? No! there came sounds as of
men at work stealthily a few yards off.

For that point a sergeant led his section, and found the howitzer with a
few men round it as escort, bearing rifles. The men threw down their
arms in token of submission, but that trick has been played too often.
"This damned nonsense is too late," said the sergeant, and with
levelled bayonets his sections swept away the chance of treachery. So
the story runs, and at any rate our men pushed forward without further
opposition until they formed a half-moon overlooking the darkness in a
deep valley that might have been full of foes. Into that darkness,
therefore, they poured steady volleys for half an hour, while the
engineers were trying to destroy the captured howitzer. Their first
attempt failed owing to a defective fuse, but with the next gun-cotton
charge a fracture was made so deep that the howitzer will never be able
to fire a shot again. Then the riflemen retired, and as they reached a
safe distance downhill they heard a mightier explosion. This also was
the work of our engineers, who had found a magazine and blown it up with
all the ammunition there.

But now from flanks and rear came heavy rifle fire. Colonel Metcalfe,
thinking he was being fired on by his own supports, rode towards them,
calling upon Captains Paley and Stephen by name to cease firing. But he
was met by a withering volley, and knew it must have come from enemies.
At the same time a sergeant going off in another direction, and calling,
"Second Rifle Brigade, are you there?" was received by answers in
English, and before he had discovered his mistake three rifle-bullets
stung him, but for all that he managed to get back in safety to his
company. Then the Adjutant-Captain Dawnay, assisted by Major Wing of the
Artillery, who had come out from camp as a volunteer unattached, did
successful work in getting together sections that had gone astray in the
intense darkness.

It was almost impossible to see anything a yard off. One man felt
something brush against him, and said by way of precaution, "Third Rifle
Brigade?" "Yes," was the response, but at that moment the rattle of a
rifle warned him. He saw something white, which was certainly not part
of a British soldier's campaigning uniform, and, driving at that, got
his bayonet into a Dutchman's shirt just in time to save himself from
being shot. An officer had an exciting bout with a Kaffir who was
fighting on the Boer side, the weapon on one side being a broomstick
that had been used as an alpenstock for hill-climbing, and on the other
a Mauser rifle which the Kaffir had no chance to reload, so quickly were
the blows showered upon him, and a bayonet-thrust delivered at hazard as
he ran put an end to his fighting for the time at least. Our men were
dropping fast from rifle shots, and they had somehow missed touch with
Captain Paley's company. That officer's name was called several times,
but no answer came until the Boers on one side began shouting in good
English, "Captain Paley, here is your company, sir," and a few men
decoyed that way were shot down. The difficulty of finding wounded
comrades in the darkness was great, but still several gallant fellows
made the attempt, and brought no less than thirty-five out of the fight
over ground so broken that they frequently stumbled and fell with their
groaning burdens. One of them begged to be left there, but his
entreaties were met with the response, "Oh, cheer up, old chum; a
stretcher in camp is better than a cell in Pretoria."

While these gallant acts of mercy were being done by men whose blood had
been at fighting heat but a few minutes before, their comrades were
forming for a charge on dongas thick with Boers, whose rifles rang out
incessantly. Bayonets soon did their work. Before that charge the Boers
would not stand, but fled off to fire from a safer distance. One lying
wounded held some papers up, and said, "I am an American correspondent";
but unfortunately for him he had a rifle in his hand and it was hot.
Captain Paley, at first returned as missing, was, as it happens, leading
that charge at one point. Hearing calls for him he led his company
towards them, but likewise found himself discovered, and had just
ordered the charge when three bullets bowled him over, and he lay there
until the enemy came at dawn and found him with other wounded; but his
fall was quickly avenged, for his company charged gallantly, and made a
way for themselves clean through the Boers. Colonel Metcalfe succeeded
in bringing the main body of his troops away in unbroken formation, the
detached sections following, and quickly falling into order ready for
another fight; but the Boers did not molest them again, though we know
now that reinforcements numbering over 2000 had been specially sent
that night to guard against a possible attack on Surprise Hill.

When our ambulance detachments went forward at daybreak they were fired
upon, though Commandant Erasmus had sent under a flag of truce asking
that surgeons and burying parties should go out from our camp. The
medical staff were also made prisoners, and sent before Erasmus and
Schalk-Burger, who, after many questions, released them with the most
seriously wounded, among whom was Captain Paley. Lieutenant Ferguson
died before he could be brought in. Our losses in this night attack, or
rather in the fight that followed it, were 11 killed and 43 wounded,
including Colonel Metcalfe slightly, Captain Paley, Captain Gough,
Lieutenant Brand, and Lieutenant Davenport.



CHAPTER VIII

AFTER COLENSO

     The Town-Guard called out--Echoes of Colenso--Heliograms from
     Buller--The Boers and Dingaan's Day--Disappointing news--Special
     correspondents summoned--Victims of the bombardment--Shaving under
     shell fire--Tea with Lord Ava--Boer humour: "Where is Buller?"--Sir
     George White's narrow escape--A disastrous shot--Fiftieth day of
     the siege--Grave and gay--"What does England think of us?"--Stoical
     artillerymen--The moral courage of caution--How Doctor Stark was
     killed--Serious thoughts--Gordons at play--Boers watch the match--A
     story by the way--"My name is Viljoen"--How Major King won his
     liberty--A tribute to Boer hospitality--General White and
     Schalk-Burger--A coward chastised--"Sticking it out."


     The week that followed the sortie to Surprise Hill must have been
     one of intense anxiety to Sir George White and his Staff. The
     attack on the enemy's gun positions coincided with General Sir
     Redvers Buller's preparations to force the passage of the Tugela at
     Colenso, and to march to the relief of Ladysmith. This, however,
     was not generally known in the town, which was engaged by what was
     taking place nearer at hand. On 12th December Mr. Pearse  wrote:--

The big gun on Middle Hill, which the great "Twin Brethren" had put out
of action some days before, was taken to Telegraph Hill and mounted in
a strong position, whence its shells reached Cove Ridge, King's
Point, and other defensive works with unpleasant persistency. Captain
Christie's howitzers were therefore removed to a bend of Klip River,
with the object of subduing this gun's fire again, if possible. It was
apparently expected that the Boers would attempt reprisals for our night
attacks. The Town Guard and local Rifle Association, having been duly
embodied, were called out to line the river bank facing Bulwaan, and to
assist in the defence of their town, but the Commandant still remained
at Intombi Camp with sick, wounded, and non-combatants.

[Illustration: THE BRITISH POSITION AT LADYSMITH, LOOKING NEARLY DUE
SOUTH]

     On December 15, the day of the disastrous attempt at Colenso,
     General Buller's guns could be plainly heard. Mr. Pearse has the
     following entries in his  note-book:--

_December 16._--Except for a bombardment heavier than ordinary, the past
three days have been uneventful. Sounds of battle reached us in a dull
roar from the distant southward. They grew more continuous yesterday,
but rolled no nearer, and therefore told us nothing except that Sir
Redvers Buller was making a vigorous effort to join hands with
beleaguered Ladysmith, and that the Boers were with equal stubbornness
trying to beat him back along the banks of the Tugela. From far-off
Umkolumbu Mountain heliograph signals were flashed to us occasionally,
but in cipher, the meaning of which is known only at headquarters. At
dawn this morning the Boers celebrated Dingaan's Day by a royal salute
from the big Creusot on Bulwaan and fourteen other guns. All fired
shells, which fell thick about the camps, killing one Artilleryman, one
Gordon Highlander, and a civilian; several other men were slightly
wounded by splinters, but none seriously.

_December 17._--Depressing news is now made public from Sir Redvers
Buller, who made his effort on Friday for the relief of Ladysmith and
failed. He bids us wait in patience for another month until siege
artillery can reach him. The special correspondents were summoned in
haste this morning to hear an abridged version of the heliograph message
read. They were asked to break this news gently to the town before
unauthorised editions could get abroad, but somehow the ill tidings had
travelled fast and with more fulness of detail than the Intelligence
Department thought fit to divulge. There has been gloom over Ladysmith
to-day, which blazing sunshine cannot dispel, and Colonials in their
anger use strong language, for which a temperature of 107° in the shade
may be in some measure accountable.

     Mr. Pearse's notes for the next few days are mainly devoted to the
     bombardment, which now became hotter and more persistent than ever,
     their success at the Tugela having inspired the enemy with new
     hopes of reducing the town. On Monday the 18th

the shelling began at daybreak, and lasted with little intermission
until nearly dark from Boer guns all round our positions. Bulwaan began
by throwing a shrapnel, which burst low over the camp of Natal
Carabineers when the men were at morning stables. Four of them were
killed, seven wounded, and a private of the Royal Engineers so badly hit
that he lingered only a few hours. The same shell killed eleven horses
in the Carabineer lines. In the town many people had narrow escapes when
Bulwaan's 6-inch Creusot swept round, bringing its fire to bear with
destructive effect on several prominent houses. One man lying in bed had
a shell pass over him from head to foot within a few inches of his body.
It burst on striking the floor, and well-nigh stifled him with dust and
sulphurous fumes. When Bulwaan ceased Telegraph Hill began throwing
shells even to the Manchester sangars on Cæsar's Camp, wounding three or
four men, and one private of that regiment was killed by a Pom-Pom shot
from the ridge beyond Bester's Farm.

On the following day, an hour after dawn, the shelling became hot about
headquarters, then, however, changed its direction nearer to Captain
Vallentin's house, in which Colonel Rhodes was generally found about
breakfast, lunch, and dinner-time as a member of the 7th Brigade mess.
Later the Police Station, or some building near it, seemed to have a
curious fascination for the gunners of Bulwaan. They dropped shells now
in front, then in rear, of the Court-house, but always in the same line,
so that, for half an hour or so, Colonel Dartnell and his men had a warm
time. One of their tents was hit, but luckily nobody happened to be in
it at that moment. On Wednesday the 20th, too, one of the first shells
from Bulwaan burst close to the Police Camp after passing through a row
of slender trees and along the fence, inside which Colonel Dartnell's
orderly was just preparing to shave. He had his looking-glass on a rail
of the fence, when between it and himself, a distance of not more than
two feet, the shell ripped with a deafening shriek, to bury itself and
burst by the root of a tree not three yards off. How this man escaped
death is a wonder. The wall behind him was scarred by splinters, the
iron fence in front torn and twisted into strange shapes, the rails
crushed to matchwood by the force of concussion. Yet there he stood
unscathed in the midst of it all. He had not heard the shell coming
until its burst stunned, and for nearly a minute afterwards he remained
motionless, too dazed to know what had happened.

In the afternoon (writes Mr. Pearse) Lord Ava and I rode out to have
afternoon tea with the officers of Major Goulburn's battery on Waggon
Hill. Some Boers apparently had a larger and more festive gathering in
the dismantled fort on Middle Hill. They were well within range of our
12-pounder, and the middy in charge was very anxious to have a shot, but
Major Goulburn decided not to waste ammunition in breaking up that tea
party or 'dop raad.' I confess this seemed to me a mistake, for Boers
were sniping across Bester's Valley with such persistency that we had to
keep a sharp watch on our knee-haltered ponies lest they should stray
towards the dangerous zone, where one man of the Manchesters was killed
directly he showed himself. There would have been some satisfaction in a
reprisal, but orders are very strict against wasting ammunition, of
which by the way we have none to spare that might not be wanted if the
enemy should venture on a general attack.

On the same evening the Boers on Bulwaan signalled to the Gordons at Fly
Kraal Post--"Where is Buller now? He has presented us with ten guns in
place of three you took."

     What seemed like the answer came on the following day, the 21st,
     when we have the following  entry:--

Sir Redvers Buller's heavy batteries opened fire early this morning from
some position south-west of Colenso. We feel, though we have no means of
knowing for certain, that large reinforcements must have been sent that
way recently from round about Ladysmith, leaving the lines of investment
comparatively weak. Our enemy, however, makes a great show of being
strong here by keeping up a more vicious bombardment when the situation
threatens to become warm for him along the Tugela. His object, of
course, is to discourage any diversion on our part, and it succeeds,
because we have no motive for action yet. It is hard to have been cooped
up for fifty days under fire, but we must make the best of it.

After trying in vain to reach the ordnance stores this morning Bulwaan
got the range of headquarters. One shell burst a few yards short, the
next crashed into Sir Henry Rawlinson's room, smashing all the furniture
to atoms. Sir George White was lying in another room ill of a low fever,
and there was naturally much anxiety on his account. For a long time he
refused to be moved, but at length, under pressure of the whole staff,
gave way, and consented to change his quarters to a camp less exposed.
Immunity from shell fire is hardly possible within our lines now, for
the Boers have mounted another howitzer on Surprise Hill to-day, and
this, with the big Creusot still on Telegraph Hill, will probably search
many places that have hitherto been comparatively safe, for our
howitzers cannot keep down the fire of both.

_December 22._--This was a day of heavy calamity for one regiment, and
marked by more serious casualties than any other since the siege began.
At six o'clock this morning a shell from Bulwaan struck the camp of the
ill-fated Gloucesters on Junction Hill just as the men were at
breakfast. It killed six and wounded nine, of whom three are very
seriously hurt. A little later the big gun on Telegraph Hill threw a
shell into the cavalry lines. It burst among the 5th Lancers, who were
at morning inspection, and wounded Colonel Fawcett, Major King, a
captain, the adjutant, a senior lieutenant, the regimental
sergeant-major, a troop sergeant-major, and a sergeant. The last had an
eye knocked out, but the others were only slightly wounded, and when
their injuries had been looked to, they all formed in a group to be
photographed.

_December 23._--After early morning on Saturday came a strange lull in
the bombardment, and people who count the shells as they fall, for lack
of other employment, found their favourite occupation gone. Even the
pigeons that are kept in training here for future military use seemed
reluctant to fly in the still air, missing probably the excitement of
sounds that urge them to revel in multitudinous cross-currents when
shells are about; and long-tailed Namaqua doves flitted mute about the
pine branches, as if unable to coo an amorous note without the usual
accompaniment. Quiet did not reign all day, however. Towards evening the
enemy's gun on Rifleman's Ridge, or Lancer's Nek, opened straight over
the general's new quarters, to which Sir George White had only changed
half an hour earlier. This may be merely a coincidence, but it is
strange that no shells have fallen near his house at the foot of Port
Road since he quitted it. Artillery could be heard southward at
intervals pounding away with dull thuds like the beats of time on a big
drum muffled. But we have almost ceased to speculate on the meaning of
such sounds--while they come no nearer this way there is no message of
relief to us in them, and we are getting reconciled to the idea of
waiting, irksome though it may be and heavy with many unpleasant
possibilities.

     Ladysmith had now been for fifty days under the fire of the enemy's
     guns. The situation after Sir Redvers Buller's first failure to
     relieve the town, as has been seen, grew more serious, and although
     it was very far indeed from what could be regarded as critical,
     there is to be remarked in telegrams and letters of this period a
     growing appreciation of its irksomeness. But dark as the sky looked
     it was flecked by many a brighter patch. There was a gay as well as
     a grave side to life in the besieged town, and to both Mr. Pearse
     does justice in a letter written on 21st December under the
     heading, "Amenities of a Siege." It is as  follows:--

We have done our best to endure shells, privations, and the approach of
a sickly season with fortitude if not absolute cheerfulness, and our
hope is that though the position here may not seem a very glorious one,
it will be recognised henceforth as an example of the way in which
British soldiers and colonists of British descent can bear themselves in
circumstances that try the best qualities of men and women.

"I wonder what they think of us in England now? Do they regard us as
heroes or damned fools for stopping here?" asked an officer of the
King's Royal Rifles with comic seriousness. This question was
transmitted in a slightly varied form by heliograph signal to our
comrades south of the Tugela one day, and the answering flashes came
back, "You are heroes; not----" Here the message was interrupted by
clouds, and lost in a series of confused dashes which the receiving
signaller could not read. We flatter ourselves, however, that the
missing words were full of generous appreciation.

There is little enough reaching us from the outer world calculated to
"buck up" troops who feel the ignominy of having a passively defensive
role thrust upon them for "strategic reasons," cribbed, cabined, and
confined within a ring of hills by forces believed to be inferior to
their own, and exposed daily to shell fire, which, if not so destructive
as our enemies intend it to be, brings a possible tragedy with every
fragment of the thousands that fall about us. Counting eight hundred
bullets and jagged bits of iron within the bursting area of one shrapnel
shell from Bulwaan, a civilian expressed wonder that anybody should be
left alive in Ladysmith after forty days of bombardment. Since then the
shelling has been even hotter and more destructive; but, fortunately,
Boer guns do not fire many shrapnel, nor do the shells burst always in
places where they can do most damage. Many portions of the camp
unprotected by works in any shape cannot be seen from the enemy's
batteries, and though often searched for by shells thrown at haphazard,
our Cavalry, Artillery, and Army Service lines have frequently escaped
being hit by a good fortune that seems almost miraculous. One day three
successive shells fell and burst between the guns of a battery, but the
artillerymen, standing by their harnessed horses, did not move or seem
to take any notice of the vicious visitors. Such is the etiquette of a
service which, while firmly believing in the efficacy of its own fire,
is trained to ignore that of an enemy's guns. Nevertheless gunners, like
less stoical mortals, appreciate the value of bomb-proof shelters when
shells are flying about; and experience, during this siege of Ladysmith,
should have taught us all the dangers of carelessness when by timely
discretion many calamities might have been averted.

But many people have not the moral courage to show caution when warned
that shots are coming, so they stand still and take their chance instead
of seeking shelter; or possibly it might be more just to say that
fatalism in some form arms them with a fortitude which cannot be shaken
by shells. Soldiers on duty stick, as a matter of course, to their
posts, or go straight on with work that has to be done whatever the
dangers may be; but just now I am not thinking so much of them as of
civilians and troops in their leisure moments, for whom exposure is not
a necessity. The townsfolk can, if they choose, find almost absolute
safety by spending their days in cool caverns beside the river, or
bomb-proof shelters cleverly constructed near their own houses; and care
has been taken by the military authorities to provide every defensive
position round the open camp and town with shelter trenches and covered
ways, where soldiers off duty may rest secure from the heaviest shell
fire. Yet after all there is much to be said in favour of the fatalists
who put their trust in a Power greater than human agencies or foresight
can control. They, at any rate, do not meet troubles half-way or suffer
the terrible depression that leaves its traces on those who pass their
days in dark damp caves, and only venture forth at night when danger
seems to have passed, though that is by no means certain.

In one of my early telegrams to the _Daily News_, sent by Kaffir runner,
I told briefly how Dr. Stark met his death at a time of apparent
security. Descended, I believe, from one of the most famous of
West-Country Nonconformists, he held views strongly in sympathy with
what he regarded as the legitimate aspirations of an eminently religious
community, and he came here as a visitor from England with the avowed
object of giving medical care to any wounded enemies who might fall into
our hands. When Boer shells began to burst about our ears Dr. Stark was
the most practical advocate of caution. He would leave the Royal Hotel
at daybreak every morning or even earlier, carrying with him a pet
kitten in a basket, and sufficient supplies for a whole day up to
dinner-time. When the light began to fade so that gunners could hardly
see to shoot straight, and therefore ceased firing, he would emerge from
his riverside retreat and return to the hotel. Foresight could not
suggest more complete precautions against accident than he took on
common-sense principles. But, unhappily, one evening the Boer artillery
carried on practice later than usual, aiming with fixed sights steadily
at the Royal Hotel, in the evident hope of hitting some staff officers
who were supposed to hold their mess there. It was nearly dark when two
shells came in rapid succession from the big gun near Lombard's Kop, and
the second, passing clean through Dr. Stark's empty bedroom into the
hall below, went out by an open door and hit the doctor, who was coming
in at that moment. A special correspondent, Mr. McHugh, who happened to
be standing near, rendered first-aid by the application of a tourniquet;
and trained nurses came quickly to his assistance, but too late to save
the kindly gentleman, who had been shot through both legs, and whose
life-blood was ebbing fast, though he remained alive and conscious of
everything that passed for an hour afterwards. The hand of fate seemed
there, but whether it was more merciful to him or to those who, having
escaped shot and shell, are now stricken by disease in an unhealthy
camp, who shall say?

Incidents of this kind turn our thoughts to a serious complexion at
times, and if a stranger could come suddenly into our midst in the
moments of depression we should not perhaps strike him as a particularly
cheerful community. Yet war even under these conditions has its
amenities, and our mirthful moods, though chastened by events that
thrust themselves upon us with unpleasant insistence, are not
infrequent. For many welcome breaks in the monotony of daily life we are
indebted to the officers and men of regiments that will not allow
themselves or their neighbours to get into the doldrums for lack of such
sports and entertainments as ingenuity can improvise. In this respect
the Natal Carbineers, Imperial Light Horse, and Gordon Highlanders have
shown a praiseworthy zeal, being encamped near each other, and having so
far an advantage over regiments like the Devon, Liverpool, Gloucester,
Leicester, Rifle Brigade, Royal Irish Fusiliers, King's Royal Rifles,
and Manchester, which since the first day of investment have been
detached for the defence of important positions, where they can hardly
venture to expose themselves in groups without a certainty of drawing
the enemy's artillery fire upon them, and where the necessity for
ceaseless watchfulness at night puts a severe strain on all ranks. Not
that the Gordons and Irregular Horse lead a leisurely life, or have any
especial immunity from shells. On the contrary, they take a full share
of duties in many forms, and they have been rather singled out as marks
for the enemy's guns to aim at; but they have not to rough it as a whole
battalion on hillsides without tents day after day, as their outpost
lines or patrols can be relieved from standing camps in the hollows, and
in those camps the main bodies, at any rate, get a fair allowance of
undisturbed sleep, for it is only by day that they are bombarded. When
the fire is not too hot, Gordons, and Light Horse especially, have merry
times at regimental sports or friendly contests.

In a despatch sent out by a Kaffir runner, who has never come back to
claim the reward for success, I gave a description of sports in the
Gordon camp, when they and the Imperial Light Horse had a football match
in the presence of many spectators, Sir George White and several members
of his staff being of the number. Such a gathering in full sight of
Bulwaan was too tempting for the enemy's gunners to resist. People were
so absorbed in the game that they did not at first notice a cloud of
smoke from "Puffing Billy," and when they did understand what the Kaffir
warning "Boss up" meant, there was only time for the spectators to
scatter hurriedly among tents before a shell fell plump between the
goals and burst there,--the spectators flying in all directions,--but
fortunately without harm to anybody. The men coolly filled up the pit
where the missile, that had so nearly "queered their pitch," fell, and
then played their game out; but care was taken to prevent onlookers from
getting into a dense crowd again, and mule races were substituted for
football, as presenting a less favourable mark for the aim of Boer
gunners. These, however, seemed to be quite satisfied for a time with
having made one good shot. They ceased firing, and stood or sat on the
battery parapets, where, with the aid of glasses, they could be clearly
seen watching the sports through telescopes and binoculars with
sympathetic interest. But that did not prevent them from turning their
gun with malicious intent on the town after these camp sports ended. It
was nearly dark when two shots fell near the Royal Hotel, and the third
went through it to find a victim in poor Dr. Stark.

The Gordons, for some reason or other, seem to have a curious
fascination for our foes, who single this battalion out for special
attentions, some of which could be dispensed with. In the form of
frequent shells they are distinctly embarrassing, as it is impossible at
present for the Highlanders to acknowledge such courtesies by an
appropriate reply. If they are intended as invitations to closer
acquaintance I am quite sure our kilted comrades will be happy to oblige
any night by kind permission of the General commanding. The Boers,
however, indulge at times in pleasantries that show no bitterness of
feeling, but rather a desire to be playfully satirical in a way which is
suggestive of the intellectual nimbleness of a humorous elephant. Their
inquiries after Sir Redvers Buller have already been mentioned. As to
the ostentatious friendliness of our enemies for British soldiers, with
whom a temporary truce brings them in contact, some amusing stories are
told. One day a field officer of Hussars was in command of cavalry on
outpost, when a Boer travelling-cart, flying the white flag, came
rapidly up to the examining picket, and its only occupant made a cool
request that he should be allowed to enter our camp, in virtue of the
Red Cross badge on his arm, as he wanted an ambulance sent out for some
of our wounded, who had fallen into the enemy's hands. The Boer
emissary was detained at the outposts until his message could be sent to
headquarters and an answer brought back. "As I must wait here an hour,"
said he blandly, "won't you dismount and take a seat beside me under the
shade of the awning?" Military regulations having made no provision for
a refusal in such cases, the Englishman accepted, and the two were
presently carrying on an animated conversation about many subjects not
connected with the siege of Ladysmith. Now, the major has a remarkably
youthful appearance, and when he chooses to assume the devil-may-care
manner of a light-hearted subaltern, it fits him easily. Moreover, his
shoulder-chains bore no distinctive badge of rank. There was nothing, in
fact, to show that he was anything more than a cavalry lieutenant, whom
no sense of responsibility oppressed. So the Boer felt his way quickly
to subjects in which one who serves under the Geneva Convention has no
right to be interested. Answers were given glibly enough, and at the end
of that hour, with profuse assurances of amicable consideration, he
departed, probably laying the flattering unction to his soul that much
valuable information had been unconsciously imparted to him. He did not
know that the free-and-easy young cavalry soldier who talked with such
apparent frankness had learned a staff officer's duties as aide-decamp
to one of our most astutely cautious Generals. This is the story as it
was told to me at second hand, and if only well invented it is too good
to be lost.

Still better is Major King's own narrative, of the adventures that
befell him when, as the bearer of a flag of truce without credentials,
he found himself practically a prisoner among the Boers. He had gone out
to the Boer outposts to make inquiries about another staff affair--the
bearer of a flag of truce whose prolonged absence was causing some
uneasiness, as the message taken by him to General Schalk-Burger did not
demand any answer. Major King had no intention of going inside the Boer
lines, and therefore took with him no letter or written authority for
his mission, but simply rode towards the enemy's piquets unarmed and
carrying a white flag, to show that for once he was not playing the part
of a combatant, though wearing a staff officer's undress uniform. When
his purpose was explained to the Boers on duty, they suggested that he
should accompany some of their number to the commandant's camp, and,
without taking the precaution to blindfold him, they led the way
thither, chatting pleasantly all the way about every topic except
fighting. On reaching a group of tents, the exact position of which he
for honourable reasons will not mention even to his own chief, Major
King was confronted by a Boer leader, who was at first very wroth with
the escort for bringing an English officer through the lines in that
unceremonious way. When matters had been explained, however, the
commandant, as he turned out to be, introduced himself, saying:

"My name is Viljoen. You have probably heard a great deal about me, if
not much that is good. Some of your countrymen in the Transvaal thought
me a very bad lot, and as they are now with the Imperial Light Horse in
Ladysmith, I daresay there are many queer stories told about me; but I
am not quite so bad as they make out. Your presence here without papers,
however, is very awkward, and I have no alternative but to make you a
prisoner."

"Oh, that's d----d nonsense," said Major King. "I had no wish to come
here, but your men insisted on bringing me. My only object was to find
out what had become of a brother-officer who should have got back to
camp long before this. I give you the word of a soldier that I did not
want to find out anything about your position, and whatever I may have
seen, which is precious little, will be told to no one."

The commandant was in a difficulty, but agreed to send for one who is
his senior in rank and submit the case to him. During the messenger's
absence Major King was hospitably entertained, and his hosts, or
captors, talked about sport, suggesting that some day might be set apart
for an armistice, so that Boers and English might have a friendly
race-meeting. The commandant, by way of showing that he does not bear
resentment for the things that have been said about him, described his
experiences after the battle of Elandslaagte, from which he was a
fugitive, and said:

"I walked that night until I could go no farther, thinking that the
Colonial volunteers were in pursuit. If I had known they were English
cavalry I should have given myself up, for I was nearly done."

As pronounced by him, "Fiyune," his name does not sound familiar to
English ears, and it was therefore not until some time afterwards that
Major King knew he had been entertained by the notorious Ben Viljoen,
who was first reported among the killed at Elandslaagte, then as wounded
and a prisoner, but who in fact got away from the fight almost
unscathed, and now holds a command in the Boer force outside Ladysmith.
Interviews with a senior commandant, who was by no means complaisant,
and finally with Schalk-Burger, followed. The latter, after raising many
difficulties and dangling prospects of imprisonment in Pretoria before
Major King, finally consented to release that officer on condition that
he would not take any military advantage of what he had seen or heard in
the Boer lines. That condition has been honourably kept, but the Major
does not feel himself bound to make any secret of the fact that while
the Boers kept him under detention they treated him "devilish well."
This way of putting it may seem a little ambiguous, but those who know
General Hunter's light-hearted A.D.C. will understand the sincerity of
his tribute to the hospitality of Commandants Schalk-Burger and Ben
Viljoen.

Another Boer, who may be credited with a desire to say pleasant things,
was talking under a flag of truce with an English officer about the
prospects on each side. "We admit," he said, "that the British soldiers
are the best in the world, and your regimental officers the bravest,
but--we rely on your generals."

Even on the battlefield, when men are apt to be carried away by the lust
of fighting, many incidents have happened that touch the chords of
sympathy. The Boers have curious notions about white flags and Geneva
Crosses, but so far as our experience goes nobody can accuse them of
inhumanity to a fallen or helpless foe, except in the matter of firing
on hospitals when they think there are military reasons to justify them.
They shelled the Town Hall of Ladysmith persistently while sick and
wounded were lying there and the Red Cross flag waved above its
clock-tower. In reply to a protest from Sir George White, Commandant
Schalk-Burger defended his gunners on the plea that we had no right to a
hospital in Ladysmith while there was a neutral camp at Intombi Spruit
for their reception. The contention was, of course, preposterous, and
based moreover on the insulting assumption that our General had been
guilty of sheltering effective combatants behind an emblem which all
civilised nations have agreed to respect. Possibly the enemy may seek to
show that we are not above suspicion in such things, by reference to a
skirmish in which one of our batteries did open from a position
directly in front of ambulance waggons. These were outspanned near a
field hospital when the affair began, and as it was thought necessary to
get the wounded out of possible danger quickly, they had to be removed
some little distance in dhoolies. Meanwhile the Boers were getting guns
on to a kopje where they might have enfiladed one of our most important
lines of defence. To stop them in time a battery had to be brought into
action, and the only ground from which it could have shelled the kopje,
to frustrate the enemy's purpose of mounting a gun there, was just in
front of the ambulance waggons. Care, however, had been taken in that
case to lower the Red Cross flag, so that our artillery cannot be
accused of using it as a "stalking horse," though each waggon bears the
same symbol painted conspicuously on its canvas awning. These are
matters about which some ill-feeling has been aroused, but they do not
lessen our appreciation of acts by which individual Boers have shown
magnanimity while smarting under losses that must have been bitterly
humiliating to them.

When our cavalry reconnaissance was pushed forward after the successful
night attack on Gun Hill, the Hussars got into a very tight place, from
which they extricated themselves by a dash that cost many lives, and
some wounded were left on the field with their dead comrades. Ambulances
were sent out for them under a flag of truce. As one Hussar was being
carried on a stretcher, a young Boer jeered at him, using epithets that
were so coarse and cowardly that they roused the ire of a bearded
veteran who probably fought against our troops nineteen years ago. With
one blow he felled the youngster, and thereby gave him an object-lesson
in the treatment that is meet for those who abuse a helpless foe. To
chivalry of a similar kind Captain Paley owed his life when wounded
after the night attack on Surprise Hill, according to the story told by
one who heard it while the wounded officer was being brought back to
camp next day. In the confusion and darkness Captain Paley's men did not
see him fall directly after he had given the order for them to charge.
He was left there sorely wounded, and one of the many foreigners now
fighting against us in the enemy's ranks levelled a rifle at him, but
was stopped before he could pull the trigger by a blow from the butt-end
of a rifle that sent him reeling. Again it was a grey-bearded veteran
who had come so timely to the rescue of an Englishman. If many such
stories are told we must either come to the conclusion that the older
Boers do not entertain against us the hatred with which they are
credited, or that there is one of their number who goes about the
battlefield from fight to fight seeking opportunities to succour British
soldiers in distress. At any rate, all this is simply history repeating
itself. Mr. Carter, in his impartial narrative of the former Boer war,
tells us:--

"Similar evidence was furnished after every encounter our troops had
with the Dutch. It was the young men--some mere boys of fifteen--who
displayed, with pardonable ignorance, bragging insolence. The men of
maturer years, with very few exceptions, behaved like men, and in the
hour of victory in many instances restrained the braggarts from
committing cowardly acts. In this fight at the Nek, Private Venables of
the 58th, who was one of the prisoners taken by the Boers, owed his life
to Commandant De Klerck, who intervened at a moment when several Boers
had their guns pointed at the wounded soldier."

It is not, however, very reassuring to find that but for such timely
intervention wounded men might possibly be shot or ill-treated, and
therefore our soldiers will not be restrained from risking their lives
to rescue a fallen comrade merely by the announcement that "we are at
war with a civilised foe, to whose care the wounded in battle may be
confidently left." We may be thankful for the fact that saving life
under fire is still regarded as an act worthy of the Victoria Cross "for
valour."

In other respects, we do not owe much gratitude to the Boers. If we were
dependent upon them for anything that could help to make life in a
bombarded town tolerable, Ladysmith's plight to-day would be pitiful.
They have tried their hardest--though not successfully--to make every
house in the place untenable between sunrise and sunset, doing
infinitely more damage to private property than to military defences;
and they have thrown shells about some parts of the long open town with
a persistence that would seem petty in its spitefulness if we could be
sure that the shots strike near what they are aimed at. So long as the
Boers do not violate any laws of civilised warfare nobody has a right to
blame them for trying the methods that may seem most likely to bring
about the fall of Ladysmith. They have, however, simply wrecked a few
houses, disfigured pretty gardens, mutilated public buildings, destroyed
private property, and disabled by death or wounds a small percentage of
our troops, without producing the smallest effect on the material
defences, or weakening the garrison's powers of endurance in any
appreciable degree. Such a bombardment day after day for seven weeks
would doubtless get on the nerves if we allowed ourselves to think about
it too much; but happily the civilians--men and women--who resolved to
"stick it out" here rather than accept from their country's enemies the
questionable benefits of a comparatively peaceful existence under the
white flag at Intombi Spruit have shown a fortitude and cheerfulness
that win respect from every soldier. Shelters are provided for them and
their children, but they do not always take advantage of these, even
when a bugle or whistle from the look-out post warns them that a shell
is coming. Ladies still go their daily round of shopping just as they
did in the early days of bombardment, indeed more regularly, and with a
cool disregard of danger that brave men might envy. Though more than
5000 shells have been thrown within our defensive lines, and a vast
number of these into the town itself, only one woman has been wounded so
far, and not a single child hit. For all this we have every reason to be
thankful.

When the sun goes down people who have taken shelter elsewhere during
the day return to their homes, and have pleasant social gatherings, from
which thoughts of Boer artillery are banished by innocent mirth and
music. Walking along the lampless streets, at an hour when camps are
silent, one is often attracted by the notes of fresh, young voices,
where soft lights glow through open casements, or the singers sit under
the vine-traceried verandah of a "stoup," accompanying the melody with
guitar or banjo. Occasionally stentorian lungs roar unmelodious
music-hall choruses that jar by contrast with sweeter strains, but
sentiment prevails, and who can wonder if there are sometimes tears in
the voices that sing "Swanee River" and "Home, Sweet Home," or if a
listener's heart is deeply moved as he hears the words, "Mother come
back from the Echoless Shore," sung amid such surroundings in the still
nights of days that are hoarse with the booming of guns. Few of us,
however, despise comic songs here when time and scene fit. We have them
at frequent smoking-concerts that help to enliven a routine of duty that
would be dull without these entertainments. There are no regimental
bands to cheer us, but the Natal Volunteers have improvised one in which
tin whistles and tambourines make a fair substitute for fifes and drums.
The pipes of the Gordon Highlanders we have always with us, too.



CHAPTER IX

A CHRISTMAS UNDER SIEGE

     Husbanding supplies--Colonel Ward's fine work--Our Christmas
     market--A scanty show--Some startling prices--A word to cynics--The
     compounding of plum-puddings--The strict rules of temperance--Boer
     greetings "per shell"--A lady's narrow escape--Correspondents
     provide sport--"Ginger" and the mules--The sick and wounded--Some
     kindly gifts--Christmas tree for the children--Sir George White and
     the little ones--"When the war is over"--Some empty rumours--A
     fickle climate--Eight officers killed and wounded--More messages
     from Buller--Booming the old year out.


     It needed perhaps all the music that could be mustered in the town
     to remind the beleaguered garrison and inhabitants that the festive
     season was upon them. It was inevitable that at such a time the
     thoughts of all should turn a little regretfully to other scenes.
     But it takes a great deal to depress the British soldier to the
     point at which he is willing to forego his Christmas; and on all
     hands, in spite of adverse fortune, preparations were made to keep
     the day in as fitting a manner as the restricted means
     allowed--with what success is described by Mr. Pearse in the
     following  letter:--

Thanks to the perfect organisation which Colonel Ward, C.B., brings into
all branches of the department over which he is chief here, and the
attention paid to innumerable details by his second in command, Colonel
Stoneman, there has never been any danger of necessary supplies being
exhausted, even if this place were invested for a much longer time than
seems likely now, but these two officers seem to have more than absolute
necessaries in reserve. When Colonel Ward was appointed Military
Governor of Ladysmith his measures for preserving health in the town and
camps surrounding it took a very comprehensive form. He not only made
provision for ample water-supply, in place of that which the Boers had
cut off, but his ideas of sanitary precaution embraced inquiry into
sources of food-supply and kindred subjects. To the end that he might
know whether wholesome meat and drink were being sold, it was obviously
necessary that he should have reports as to the articles in which
various proprietors of stores traded. Information on these points was
collected with so much care that, when the pinch came, he knew exactly
where to put his hand on provisions for the healthy and medical comforts
for the sick and wounded. He had only to requisition a certain number of
shops and hotels that were scheduled as having ample supplies of the
things wanted, and the trick was done. Some tradesmen were glad enough
to have their old stock taken over wholesale by the military authorities
at a profitable price, but others, who foresaw chances of a richer
harvest, were inclined to grumble at the arbitrary exercise of power of
officials whose acts they regarded as little better than confiscation,
and, unfortunately, some of these managed to evade the first call, so
that they were allowed to go on selling privately, and running up the
prices to a fabulous extent.

This was a mistake. All should have been treated alike, so that none
might complain that kissing goes by favour, even in the most immaculate
and best regulated armies. As it was, the military commissariat secured
much that would add to the comfort of soldiers, but for what was left
civilians had to pay dearly. Some idea of the way in which this worked
may be given by a quotation from the prices bid at our Christmas market
on Saturday. We have no Covent Garden or Leadenhall here, but it was
felt that some sort of show ought to be made at this festive season, and
accordingly everything in the form of Christmas fare that could be got
together was brought out for sale by auction. It did not amount to much.
The whole barely sufficed to fill one long table, which was placed in a
nook between the main street and a side alley, where fifty people or so
might crowd together without attracting the notice of Bulwaan's gunners,
who would delight in nothing so much as the chance of throwing a
surprise shell into the midst of such a gathering.

The time for holding this auction had been fixed with a view to the
enemy's ordinary practice of closing hostilities about sunset each
evening, but he does not allow this to become a hard and fast rule, nor
does he recognise "close time" that may not be broken in upon at will,
if sufficient temptation to shoot presents itself. So the sale was held,
not only in a secluded corner, but in the brief half-light between
sunset and night. Some civilians came as a matter of curiosity to look
on, but the majority were soldiers, regular or irregular, on business
intent, and they soon ran up with a rapidity that gave the good traders
of Ladysmith a lesson in commercial possibilities when it was too late
for them to profit by it to the full. Eggs sold readily at nine
shillings a dozen, their freshness being taken on trust and no questions
asked. Ducks that had certainly not been crammed with good food were
considered cheap at half a guinea each, and nobody grumbled at having to
give nine shillings and sixpence for a fowl of large bone but scanty
flesh. Imported butter in tins fetched eight and sixpence a pound, jam
three and sixpence a tin, peaches boiled that morning in syrup, and
classified therefore as preserves, went freely for seven and sixpence a
bottle, and condensed milk at five shillings a tin. But these prices
were low compared with the five shillings given for three tiny cucumbers
no longer than one's hand. The crowning bid of all, however, was thirty
shillings for twenty-eight new potatoes, that weighed probably three or
four pounds. The buyers were mostly mess-presidents of regiments, whose
officers began to crave for some change from the daily rations of tough
commissariat beef and compressed vegetables; or troopers of the Imperial
Light Horse, who will rough it with the best when necessity compels, but
not so long as there are simple luxuries to be had for the money that is
plentiful among them.

Cynics dining sumptuously in their clubs may jeer at the idea of
campaigners attaching so much importance to creature comforts. Let them
try a course of army rations for two months, and then say what price
they would set against a fresh egg or a new potato. Two privates of the
Gordon Highlanders stopped beside the auctioneer's stall as if
meditating a bid for some fruit. They listened in wonderment as the
prices went up by leaps and bounds. Then said one to the other, "Come
awa, mon! We dinna want nae sour grapes." For them, however, and for
others whose means did not run to Christmas market prices, there was
consolation in store. Colonel Ward had taken care that there should be a
reserve of raisins and other things necessary for the compounding of
plum-puddings; and officers of the Army Service Corps were able to
report for Sir George White's satisfaction that sufficient could be
issued for every soldier in this force to have a full ration. The only
thing wanting was suet, which trek oxen do not yield in abundance after
eking out a precarious existence on the shortest of short commons; and
half-fed commissariat sheep have not much superfluous fat about them.
What substitutes were found it boots not to inquire too curiously,
seeing that Tommy did not trouble to ask so long as he got his Christmas
pudding in some form. There was no rum for flavouring, as all liquors
have to be carefully hoarded for possible emergencies. So for once the
British soldier had to celebrate Christmas according to the rules of
strict temperance. Yet he managed to have a fairly festive time for all
that.

Boer guns sent us greeting in the shape of shells that did not explode.
When dug up they were found to contain rough imitations of plum-pudding
that had been partly cooked by the heat of explosion in gun barrels. On
the case of each shell was engraved in bold capitals, "With the
Compliments of the Season." This was the Boer gunner's idea of subtle
irony, he being under the impression that everybody in Ladysmith must be
then at starvation point. In all probability it did not occur to him
that he was throwing into the town a number of curious trophies which
collectors were eager to buy on the spot for five pounds each, with the
certainty of being able to sell them again if they cared to at an
enormous profit some day. After wasting some ammunition for the sake of
this practical joke, our enemies began a bombardment in earnest. Most of
this was directed at the defenceless town. One shell burst in a private
house, wounding slightly the owner, Mrs. Kennedy, whose escape from
fatal injuries seemed miraculous, for the room in which she stood at
that moment was completely wrecked, the windows blown out, and furniture
reduced to a heap of shapeless ruin.

Shells notwithstanding, the troops had their Christmas sports following
a substantial dinner of roast beef and plum-pudding. There were high
jinks in the volunteer camps, where Imperial Light Horse, Natal
Carbineers, and Border Mounted Rifles, representing the thews and sinews
of Colonial manhood, vied with Regular regiments in strenuous tugs of
war and other athletic exercises, preparatory to the tournament, which
is fixed for New Year's Day--"weather and the enemy's guns permitting."
Three special correspondents, whose waggons are outspanned to form a
pleasant little camp in the slightly hollowed ridge of a central hill,
where they cannot be seen from the Boer batteries, and are therefore
comparatively safe except from stray shells, organised a series of novel
sports for the benefit of their nearest neighbours--the Rifle Brigade
transport "South Africa," in the person of its genial representative,
put up most of the prize-money, and together we arranged a succession of
events, offering inducements enough to secure full entries for
competitions that lasted from ten o'clock in the morning until near
sunset, allowing sufficient intervals for the mid-day meal and other
refreshments. We flatter ourselves that our gymkhana, in which races
ridden on pack and transport mules furnished the liveliest incidents,
would take a lot of beating--as a humorous entertainment at any rate.
In order to avoid drawing fire from "Puffing Billy" or "Silent Sue" of
Bulwaan, the course had to be laid in a semicircle that passed the
picketing line for mules. Up to that point they would gallop like
thoroughbreds, then cut it to their customary feeding-places with a
promptness that sent several good riders to ground as if they had been
shot. There are several good jockeys in the Rifle Brigade transport, and
among them one who spent many days in racing stables at home and abroad
before he took it into his head to follow the fifes and drums of
"Ninety-Five." But even the redoubtable "Ginger," with all his
horseman's skill and powers of persuasion in French, Hindustani, and
English, could not prevail over a mule's will. It was more by luck than
good riding that anybody managed to get past the post without two or
three falls by the way. But this only added to the fun of the thing, for
Tommy when in sportive mood takes hard knocks with infinite good-humour.
When at the finish successful and unsuccessful competitors assembled to
cheer their hosts, the three correspondents had the gratification of
feeling that for a few of the many besieged soldiers in Ladysmith they
had helped to make Christmas merry.

[Illustration: THE BRITISH POSITION AT LADYSMITH, LOOKING SOUTH-EAST]

You may be sure that sick and wounded at Intombi hospital were not
forgotten in the midst of our wild festivities. For them the morning
train was laden with fruit, flowers, and such delicacies as the
resources of this beleaguered town can still furnish. There are many
unselfish people here who do not want to make money by selling things at
market prices, or to keep for their own use the dainties that might be
nectar to the lips of suffering soldiers. And there are officers also
who have given of their abundance so freely that they will have to be
dependent on similar generosity if the chances of war should number them
among the sick or wounded. I must guard myself against being
misunderstood. The hospital patients at Intombi Camp are not reduced to
meagre fare yet, nor likely to be, but medical comforts are not all that
a sick man craves for, and the simplest gifts sent from Ladysmith's
store that day must have been like a ray of sunshine brightening the lot
of some poor fellow with the assurance that, though far from home, he
was still among friends who cared for him. Nor were the weakly and the
children who still remain in this town forgotten. Colonel Dartnell, a
soldier of wide experience, who commands the Field Force of Natal
Police, and is beloved by every man serving under him; Major Karri
Davis, of the Imperial Light Horse; Colonel Frank Rhodes, Lord Ava, and
a few others got together the materials for a great Christmas tree, to
which all the little ones between babyhood and their teens were invited.
The Light Horse Major's long imprisonment with his brother officer
Sampson in Pretoria, far from embittering him against humanity in
general, has only made him more sympathetic with the trials and
sufferings of others; just as heavy fines and a death sentence seemed to
bring out the most lovable characteristics of Colonel Rhodes. It was
Karri Davis who bought up all the unbroken toys that were to be found in
Ladysmith shops; and the ready hands of ladies, who are always
interested in such work, decorated the Christmas trees or adorned the
hall in which this gathering was to be held with gay devices and hopeful
mottoes. There were four trees. Round their bases respectively ran the
words, "Great Britain," "Australia," "Canada," and "South Africa," and
above them all the folds of the Union Jack were festooned. Contributors
sent bon-bons and crackers in such profusion that each tree bore a
bewildering variety of fruit. To avoid confusion in distributing prizes,
these were numbered to correspond with the tickets issued; and Santa
Claus, who patronised the ceremony, in a costume of snowy swansdown,
that shed flakes wherever he walked, was content to play his part in
dumb show, while the children walked round after him to receive the toys
that were plucked for them, with many jests, by Colonel Dartnell and his
genial colleagues. Over two hundred children were there, and many of
them so young that it seemed as if the one precluded from attendance on
the score of extreme youthfulness must have been the siege baby, who was
then only a few days old. Generals Sir George White and Sir Archibald
Hunter, with their aides-de-camp and many staff officers, came to take
part in the interesting scene.

Looking at the little ones as they trooped through the hall, in their
white finery, Sir George said he had no idea that so many children
remained in Ladysmith, and perhaps at that moment his heart was heavy
with a deeper sense of the responsibility thrust upon him. But
fortunately we have been spared the worst horrors of a bombardment.
Though Boer gunners have never hesitated, but rather preferred, to turn
their fire on the open town, with a probability of hitting some house in
which were women and children, none of the latter, and only two of the
former, have been hit through the whole siege. Mrs. Kennedy, to whose
narrow escape I have already referred, suffered so little bodily injury
or nerve shock that she was present with her children at the Christmas
tree entertainment, and took the congratulations of her friends quite
coolly. After the children had gone home trees and trappings were
dismantled, and the hall cleared for dancing, which the young people of
Ladysmith and a few subalterns off duty kept up with much spirit until
near midnight. In days to come we may look back to our Christmas under
siege in Ladysmith, and think that after all we had not a very bad time.
At this moment, however, there is probably nobody outside who envies our
lot, or grudges us any enjoyment we may manage to get out of it.
Soldiers, at any rate, deserve every chance of relaxation that can be
found for them. There are several regiments of this force that have been
practically on outpost duty since the investment began, often exposed to
rain-storms during the day, because they could not pitch even shelter
tents without drawing the enemy's fire on them. When the honours for
this campaign come to be distributed I hope the services of these
regiments will not be ignored.

Some Boxing Day sports had to be postponed for a more convenient
opportunity, because shells were falling too thick about the camp, and
since then the Boer guns have been so busy that men find occupation
enough in fatigue duties at strengthening defensive works without
thinking about amusements. The bombardment that day began with the first
flush of roseate sunrise--when our enemies brought some smokeless guns
to bear on us from new positions--and went on steadily for hours until
"Puffing Billy" of Bulwaan left off shelling in this direction, and
turned to fire several shells eastward. Rumour, as usual, was equal to
the occasion, circulating stories that Sir Charles Warren's patrols were
known to be moving that way. These inventions are worth nothing unless
the names of corps or their commanding officers can be given, so their
originators always take care to give such realistic touches. They give
you "the lie circumstantial" or none at all. Possibly there may have
been in this firing more method than we imagine, the idea being to
mislead us by a pretended engagement with some force on the other side
of Bulwaan. Another rational theory is that the gunners were simply
expending a little ammunition in practice at range-finding for their
guidance in future eventualities. Any story proved acceptable as a
relief to the weariness of life in camp, that day when the thermometer
registered 108° in the shade. What a climate Natal has! For fickleness
it beats anything we have to grumble about in England. At night the
temperature went down to 65°, and the brilliant summer weather broke up
suddenly in a fierce thunderstorm. For a time every object roundabout
would be blotted out by inky blackness, and for the next two or three
minutes the lowering angry clouds would pulsate with dazzling light that
leaped upward like life-blood from the throbbing heart of the storm.
Each thundering peal was followed by a momentary lull, and then
spasmodic gusts shook the air, as if Nature were drawing a deep breath
for another effort. Before daybreak yesterday the storm had cleared,
leaving a clouded sky, but no mists about the hilltops, to prevent a
continuance of the bombardment.

Surprise Hill's howitzer surpassed previous performances by throwing
three shells over Convent Ridge into the town, and the Bulwaan guns,
having done with imaginary foes eastward, turned their attention to us
once more. One of the earliest shells from that battery struck the mess
tent of the Devon Regiment, and burst among officers at breakfast with
disastrous results. Captain Lafone, who had been wounded at
Elandslaagte, was killed; Lieutenant Price-Dent so seriously injured
that there is little hope of his recovery; six other subalterns
wounded--one being hit by shrapnel bullets or splinters in four
places--and the mess waiter struck down by a heavy splinter that
embedded itself beneath the ribs in a cavity too deep for probing at
present. There was a curiously spiteful touch in the bombardment all
day, and at midnight we were roused by sounds of rapid rifle-firing that
began from Bell's Spruit and the railway cutting against Observation
Hill and ran along to Rifleman's Ridge on one flank, and Devonshire Hill
on the other. It was all Boer firing, but no shots came into the line of
defences, and our men did not reply by letting off so much as one rifle.
A thunder-storm raged to the accompaniment of heavy rain for some time,
and perhaps the enemy thought we might choose such a night for attacking
them under cover of intense darkness.

     The last few days of the closing year were, on the whole, quiet,
     though, as Mr. Pearse seems to have felt, important events were
     brewing. We make the following extracts from his  notebook:--

_December 28._--This morning there was just a pale glimmer of dawn when
our large naval gun assumed the aggressive part, and sent six shells in
rapid succession on to Bulwaan battery and the hillside, where Boers
were moving about. A little later stretcher parties could be seen
collecting apparently wounded men. As "Puffing Billy" made no reply to
this challenge, but remained silent all day, it is probable that many of
the gunners were injured. "Silent Susan," otherwise "Bulwaan Sneak,"
however, fired several shots, and the bombardment was kept up from
Rifleman's Ridge, Telegraph Hill, and a 12-pounder on Middle Hill, while
Pom-Poms at two points barked frequently, but all this fuss and fury
happily did no harm to anybody. At night a brilliant beam, like the tail
of a comet, appeared in the southern sky. Presently the tail began to
wag systematically, and experts were able to spell out the words of a
cipher message. It was General Buller talking to us across fifteen miles
of hills, and the conversation, all on one side, was kept up until
lowering clouds shut out the light. We had no means of replying, but at
eleven o'clock our guns fired two shots as a signal that the message had
been seen and understood.

_December 29._--Yesterday and to-day the bombardment has been vigorous
in spite of heavy rain, and directed mainly on houses in town. Colonel
Dartnell had a narrow escape on Friday, a shell bursting close to his
tent in the Police Camp behind the Court-House. Next morning one came
into and through my old room at the Royal, completing its ruin. To all
this shooting the naval guns have replied effectively at intervals.
Ammunition for them is precious, and Captain Lambton's gunners take care
not to waste it on chance shots, as the Boer artillerymen do. From five
o'clock last evening until dawn this morning rain fell heavily. The
river rose four feet in one hour at midnight, flooding out the 18th
Hussars, who are bivouacked by its banks, and carrying away the bridge
that had been built by the Imperial Light Horse. Many horses and mules
were swept down-stream by the roaring torrent, and drowned before
anybody could attempt to save them.

_December 31._--The old year closes in a quiet that is probably
deceptive. More Boers than we have seen for weeks past are gathered
behind Bulwaan, many having returned from leave which Joubert is said to
have granted them to visit their home, with a liberality that shows his
confidence in our inactivity. It has not been so quiet all day. The
Boers disregarded their customary Sabbath rule of refraining from
hostilities unless provoked by some apparently menacing movement on our
part. There was nothing of that kind to incense them this morning, but
their gunners, unable to resist the temptation offered by herds of
cattle on Manchester Hill (as Cæsar's Camp is sometimes called), sent
one shell from "Silent Susan" on to that ridge. They missed their mark,
however, and did not get another chance until the afternoon, when
several "Sneakers" were aimed at the old camp, and one burst close to a
group of officers who were exercising themselves and their ponies for a
polo match. This may have been meant as a rebuke to the
Sabbath-breakers. Boer riflemen were engaged at that time in the more
reprehensible pastime of sniping our outposts at long range, and they
kept this up until near sunset, as if engaged in the most laudable duty;
but we have long since learned that the Boer judges his own conduct by
one standard and ours by another.

To-day the sun shone brilliantly, bringing back tropical heat, in
contrast to the cold that always accompanies violent thunder-storms in
Natal.

     And so Christmas-tide was past, and the New Year broke upon the
     beleaguered garrison. So great is the influence of times and
     seasons that we may well believe that even in Ladysmith the first
     day of 1900 brought a brighter ray of hope. But hope must yet for
     long be deferred, and the daily round of tasks grow wearisome by
     repetition--the daily dole of eked-out rations, the daily tale of
     bursting shells, were for many weeks, with one day's startling
     break, to be the sole preoccupation of the defenders. The enemy,
     even on this first day of January, were not willing to leave the
     garrison in doubt as to their presence, although, despite the
     possible touch of sarcasm, there was a grim sort of friendliness in
     their reminder. It again took the form of blind shells--this time
     fired from the Free State batteries--inscribed "Compliments of the
     Season." The sarcasm (writes Mr. Pearse)

seems the more pointed because we hear that the Boers believe us to be
starving and unable to hold out much longer. We should, at any rate,
appreciate the good wishes more if they were sent in another form.
Shells, even without fuses or powder-charges, are not quite harmless;
and though these have done no damage so far, there is always a chance
that they may hit somebody when fired into the heart of a town where
people still carry on their customary occupations in spite of
bombardment.

     Whatever change favourable to their hopes was believed in by the
     Boers, there was none in the spirit with which soldiers and
     civilians alike in the invested township faced the duties placed
     upon them. Writing on New Year's Day Mr. Pearse has a timely and a
     generous word for the humbler heroes of the  siege:--

We have among us one little saddler for whose services there is so much
demand that he has steadily stitched away for hours together every
working day since the siege began, heedless of shells. There are
tailors, too, who have done their best to keep officers and civilians
clothed, not even quitting their benches when shrapnels burst near them,
and I know of at least one poor seamstress who, by working night and
day, has earned enough to buy something more than bare rations even at
famine prices. Cynics do not look for heroes or heroines among such as
these. They toil for gain, that is all. But they have stuck to their
notion of duty in the midst of danger, and no soldier could have done
more. Not all the shells fired into town on New Year's Day were
harmless, however. One from Bulwaan burst near Captain Vallentin's
house, which has been a favourite since Colonel Rhodes took up his
quarters there, and at last one hit just over the front door. It smashed
the drawing-room wall, passed thence to the kitchen, and mortally
wounded a soldier servant, whose last words to his master were, "I hope
you've had your breakfast, sir!"

     Up to this time the subject of food supply, though it had long
     seriously occupied the attention of the authorities, had not
     gravely added to the anxieties of the siege. Under the date of 1st
     January Mr. Pearse has the following  entry:--

Colonel Ward tells me that rations are holding out well. Neither
soldiers nor civilians, who number altogether over 20,000, have suffered
privations yet, and, thanks to Colonel Stoneman's admirable system of
distribution, something more than beef, bread, and groceries can still
be issued to those who are too weak to be nourished by rough campaigning
fare.

     Forage for horses was, however, getting very scarce, and the poor
     beasts suffered greatly.

Four hundred men, including natives, are sent out every day to cut grass
on the hillsides that are least exposed to Boer rifle fire, and they
manage to bring in about 32,000 lbs. daily, but this does not go far
among all the cavalry horses, transport animals, and cattle. Many must
be left to pick up their own food by grazing under guard. The old
troop-horses, however, break away from their allotted pasturages when
feeding-time comes. Perhaps their quick ears catch the familiar bugle
call to stables sounding afar off. At all events, neither knee-halters
nor other devices are of any avail. They get back to the old lines
somehow at feeding-time, and it is pitiful to see them standing
patiently, in a row, waiting for the corn or chaff that is not for them,
trying by a soft whinny to coax a little out of the hands of soldiers
who pass them, or sidling up to an old stable chum who is better fed
because better fit for work, in the hope of getting a share of his
forage for the sake of auld lang syne. Those who know how the cavalry
soldier loves a horse that has carried him well will not need to be told
how hard Tommy found it to resist the appeal of a dumb comrade in
distress; and who shall blame him if he shortened by just a handful or
so the allowance for horses that are rationed on a special scale rather
than turn a half-starved outcast empty away? But sentiment is a mistake
when kindness can do no more than prolong misery. There is no horse
sickness yet in the epidemic form. They simply pine for want of
nourishment until, too weak even to nibble the grass about them, they
drop and die. Some day we may have a use for them before things come to
that extremity, but at present the difficulty is to dispose of their
carcases. Sanitary considerations forbid that they shall be buried in
town or near camp. The enemy shells working parties, who begin to dig
pits on the open plain, and so an incinerating furnace has been built
for the cremation of horses.

[Illustration: SIEGE OF LADYSMITH, AFTER TWO MONTHS OF BOMBARDMENT]

     In the early days of the year the Boer batteries became much more
     active. We shall see that they were preparing for a climax, which,
     however, by the splendid bravery and determination of the garrison,
     was to be turned into one of disaster for the enemy rather than for
     the defenders. We are now within three days of the hottest ordeal
     Sir George White and his gallant army had to pass through.
     Happenings in the short interval are thus described in Mr. Pearse's
     notes:--

_January 3._--For two days the Boer fire from Bulwaan has been directed
mainly at the Town Hall or buildings near it, with occasional diversions
towards the Intelligence Offices on one side, or the Indian Ordnance
Laager on the other. Within these limits of deviation are the busiest
parts of Ladysmith, bakeries for the supply of all who are invested,
depots at which civilians assemble to draw their daily rations beside
the Market Square, where lank-sided dogs snarl over refuse, and such
stores as have still something to sell that has not been requisitioned
for military uses. The Royal Hotel seems to be a mark once more. Several
shells have come near hitting it to-day, and not twenty yards from the
room in which I am making these notes a shrapnel has just burst through
the wall of a stable. One horse standing there seems to be badly
wounded, but curiously enough hardly shows any signs of terror, though
the explosion close to him must have sounded terrific, and he was half
blinded by dust mingled with fumes of melinite. The fact that Boers use
high explosives for bursting charges has been questioned, but this
shrapnel, and others I have seen burst at close quarters, undoubtedly
contained melinite or some similar villainous compound, to which our own
lyddite is near akin. A little later two ladies were driving down the
main street when a shell burst just in front of their trap. The pony
swerved as if to bolt, but his driver pulled him up with a steady hand
and soothed him without a tremor in her voice. At the next corner, fully
exposed to Bulwaan's battery, these ladies stopped, waiting to watch the
effect of another shot.

It must not be thought that our own guns, though seldom mentioned, are
idle all this while. They do not waste ammunition, for a very good
reason, but wait their opportunity for effective reply to the enemy's
batteries, and when a naval 12-pounder or the "Lady Anne" comes into
action the Boer fire is apt to be hurried and wildly inaccurate if it
does not cease for a time. The Boers have however mounted a new gun near
Pepworth's, which sends "sneakers" into town and about Mount Hill with
irritating persistency, and its smokeless powder makes a flash so small
that the exact position cannot be located.

_January 5._--Days in succession pass unbroken by any incidents
dissimilar to the routine which in the very constancy of danger becomes
monotonous. Yesterday and to-day are so much alike that one hardly
remembers which was which unless some personal adventure or a friend's
narrow escape makes a nick in the calendar. Yesterday, for instance, one
of several shells bursting about the same spot shattered the water tanks
behind a chemist's shop, and its splinters came in curious curves over
the housetops, one grazing an officer of the Imperial Light Horse, to
whom I was at that moment talking. The next shell was into the police
camp, where it burst with destructive force, completely wrecking Colonel
Dartnell's tent with all its contents, but injuring nobody. Had that
genial and most popular officer followed the almost invariable practice
of his everyday life, there would have been an end of the man to whom
more than to anybody else we owe the timely retirement from Dundee. He
it was who told General Yule, "You must go to-night or you will not be
able to go at all," and whose advice, being acted upon, brought back
several thousand men to strengthen the garrison of Ladysmith just before
its investment. The loss of such a man would have been irreparable, for
he knows more than any other officer in this country about Boers and
their methods of fighting, and he has every thread of information at
command if he were allowed to use native scouts in his own way. He would
have made the best possible chief of an Intelligence Staff, but
unfortunately military etiquette or jealousy bars his employment in that
capacity. If his advice is asked for he gives it readily as at Dundee,
and though he has no authority to act in the way that would be most
congenial to his fearless and active nature, he is as ready as ever to
render a service when wanted. Some of us know too how much civilians
have been encouraged in their endurance of a long siege by Colonel
Dartnell's cheery example. Nothing disheartens him. He is always the
same whether the day's news be good or bad, and perhaps his
unostentatious services will be adequately recognised in the end. If
they had been taken advantage of in the beginning there would be fewer
blunders to regret.

To-day Colonel Stoneman had more than one narrow escape. Two shells
burst within splinter range of the office in which he and his assistants
have worked steadily at supply details since the bombardment began. A
third passed through the roof over that office after a ricochet, and
then, without bursting, rolled to the ground in front of a stoup where
several Army Service officers were sitting. That shell will be cherished
after extraction of its fuse and melinite charge. Fire from other Boer
guns proved more disastrous. Surprise Hill's howitzer threw one shell to
the little encampment behind Range Point, where it killed one man and
wounded four of the unfortunate Royal Irish Fusiliers.

     But the time seems now ripe for larger events. On the following day
     the Boers made their supreme attempt upon the defences of the town.
     Their best and their bravest were pitted against the siege-worn
     British soldier; but though they gained all the advantage of a
     night surprise, though their fierce energy placed them at this
     point and that several times within an inch of victory, they were
     hurled back by a foeman whose determination was greater than their
     own, and whose courage and spirit of self-sacrifice rose superior.



CHAPTER X

THE GREAT ASSAULT

     Why the Boers attacked--Interesting versions--A general
     surprise--Joubert's promise--Boer tactics reconsidered--Erroneous
     estimates--Under cover of night--A bare-footed advance--The
     Manchesters surprised--The fight on Waggon Hill--In praise of the
     Imperial Light Horse--A glorious band--The big guns speak--Lord Ava
     falls--Gordons and Rifles to the rescue--A perilous position--The
     death of a hero--A momentary panic--Man to man--A gallant
     enemy--Burghers who fell fighting--The storming of Cæsar's
     Camp--Shadowy forms in the darkness--An officer captured--"Maak
     Vecht!"--Abdy's guns in play--"Well done, gunners!"--Taking water
     to the wounded--Dick-Cunyngham struck down--Some anxious
     moments--The Devons charge home--A day well won.


     When Mr. Pearse spoke of the comparative calm which marked the
     closing days of 1899 as deceptive, he was right, and events
     promptly proved him so. On 6th January the Boers, as has been said,
     made a most determined attempt to bring the siege of Ladysmith to
     an end by storming the British defences. Why the enemy should have
     allowed so long an interval to elapse since their half-hearted
     effort of 9th November, is difficult to imagine. Dingaan's Day
     (16th December) was originally fixed for the attack, but
     Schalk-Burger was diverted from his purpose by the attempt made by
     Sir Redvers Buller to force the passage of the Tugela. The
     projected onslaught on the besieged town having once been
     abandoned, it was generally believed that the Boers would be too
     intent on watching the movements of the relief column to trouble
     about attacking Ladysmith in force. According to one report an
     imperative order from President Kruger precipitated matters, while
     another story is to the effect that a bogus despatch purporting to
     be from Sir George White to Sir Redvers Buller, brought about the
     sudden change in the enemy's tactics. This despatch, so the story
     runs, asked that relief might be sent at once as the ammunition was
     exhausted, and it was impossible for the garrison to hold out in
     the event of the town being attacked. The native runner, to whom
     the document was entrusted, was instructed to proceed in the
     direction of the Boer lines, and so faithfully complied with his
     orders that both runner and despatch fell into the hands of the
     enemy. If the Boers were led to attack by any such ruse they were
     completely disillusioned as to the capabilities of Sir George
     White's forces. Be it said to their credit that, whatever their
     hopes of an easy victory, they quitted themselves like men when
     they realised their tremendous mistake. The long fierce struggle is
     vividly described in the following letter written two days  after:--

[Illustration: THE ENVIRONS OF LADYSMITH]

Saturday's stubborn fight was a surprise in more senses than one. Nobody
here had credited the Boers with a determination to attack, unless
chance should give them overwhelming superiority in all respects, and
for that chance they have waited so supinely that it seemed probable the
game of long bowls with heavy artillery, varied by "sniping" from behind
rocks a mile off, would continue to be played day after day in the hope
of starving us into subjection, before Sir Redvers Buller could bring
up his relieving force. Everybody knew that issue to be well-nigh
impossible, because our resources are far from starvation point yet, and
it is inconceivable that eight or ten thousand British soldiers could be
hemmed in by three times their number of Boers, and compelled to yield
without a desperate fight in the last extremity. We were fully aware
that if ever an opening offered for the Boers to creep up within shorter
range, under cover, and without being seen, they would be prompt to take
advantage of it, in expectation of bringing off another Majuba, and that
is a danger to which our extenuated defensive lines necessarily expose
us, but we trusted with justice, as events have proved, to the
steadiness and discipline of well-trained troops, to hold the Boers in
check wherever they might gain any temporary advantage, and drive them
back at the bayonet's point. That they would even push an attack to
storming point few if any among us believed, for the simple reason that
rifles are of no use against cold steel when combatants come to close
quarters. The Boers know that well enough. Their only hope in attack
therefore rests on the chance of being able by stealth to seize an
advantageous position whence they may bring a deadly rifle fire to bear
on the defenders, whom they hope by this means to throw into panic.

That was the plan they tried on Saturday, being urged to it, as we have
since learned, by peremptory orders and fair promises from Joubert, who
is said to have watched the fight from a distance. That, however, seems
improbable, if Sir Redvers Buller was at the same time threatening a
movement against the Tugela Heights, though it is certain that Joubert
attached great importance to this attack on Ladysmith, because he had
written a letter ordering De Villiers to capture Bester's Ridge, at all
costs, with his commando of Free State Boers, and promising that those
who succeeded in winning that position should be released from further
service. This anxiety to get hold of a range which includes Cæsar's Camp
and Waggon Hill, and commands Ladysmith at a range of 5000 yards, can be
easily understood, but the urgency demanding any sacrifice of life,
provided that end were attained, suggests many possibilities, and gives
to Saturday's fight exceptional significance as a probable turning-point
in the Natal Campaign, which has hitherto gone in favour of our foes,
notwithstanding the victories we have gained over them in isolated
actions. Dundee and Elandslaagte, like Lord Methuen's fights on the
Modder River, added lustre to our army, by showing what British soldiers
can do in assaulting positions against the terrific fire from modern
magazine rifles, but it cannot be said that we have profited by them
while our enemies are able to keep us here cut off from all
communications except by heliograph or search-light signals, and have
yet force enough to interpose a formidable line of resistance between
Ladysmith and Sir Redvers Buller's column.

There cannot be many Boers in any position surrounding this place, but
their mobility gives them the power of concentrating quickly at any
point that might be threatened, and this for all practical purposes
increases their numbers threefold. As Colonel F. Rhodes put it in one of
his quaintly appropriate phrases, "We are a victorious army besieged by
an inferior enemy." But there are Boers in twice our own strength near
at hand, if, not actually all in the investing lines. The Tugela Heights
are scarcely twelve miles off as the crow flies, and this distance might
be covered by a Boer commando in less than two hours, so that a thousand
men or more moving from one of our enemy's columns to another, could be
brought into a fight in time to turn the tide against either Ladysmith
or its relieving force as occasion might prompt. For attacking a
particular point this mobility would give enormous advantages if the
Boers only knew how to make full use of them, and carried arms on which
they could rely for hand-to-hand fighting, in the critical moment of
pushing an attack home.

As it is they trust to tactics that have stood them well in previous
campaigns against British soldiers and natives, their object being to
gain some commanding position, whence, without being seen, they may pour
a deadly fire on their astonished foes, and thus cause a panic retreat
that might be turned into a disorderly rout by a sudden rush of
reinforcing Boers or a terrific storm of bullets from several quarters
at once. Reasoning from experience they hope to make history repeat
itself in another Majuba Hill. One would have thought that the fights at
Elandslaagte and Dundee would dispel delusions of that kind based on the
assumption that Tommy Atkins will not stand up against rifle bullets at
short range from Boers whom he cannot see if they but steal upon him and
open fire where he least expects to find them.

Probably there were erroneous estimates on both sides, but at any rate
it is certain that our foes were confident of being able to win by
massed surprise, and their effort was made with an adroitness not less
astonishing than the audacity of its conception. After this it will be
ridiculous for anybody to contend that the Boers are not brave fighters,
though they lack the daring by which alone fights like that of Saturday
can be decided. Their tactics have changed little since the old days,
and it remains true now as then that they are an offensive but not an
attacking force. Having gained by stealth the positions that were
supposed to command our outpost defences on Cæsar's Camp and Waggon
Hill, they acted from that moment as if on the defensive, trusting for
victory not to any forward movement of their own but to the belief that
our men would give way, and might then be rolled back in panic upon
Ladysmith by thousands of mounted Boers who awaited that turn of events
to make their meditated dash. Such undoubtedly was the plan conceived by
Free State and Transvaal commanders at the Krygsraad when Joubert,
Prinsloo, Schalk-Burger, Viljoen, and other leaders met together in
council some days ago. The manner of its execution may be conjectured by
the light of subsequent events.

The attack began before daybreak with a determined attempt to capture
the whole range of Bester's Ridge, which is divided officially into
Cæsar's Camp and Waggon Hill, forming the southern chain of our
defences, and held by the outposts of Colonel Ian Hamilton's Brigade.
Seventy of the Imperial Light Horse held Waggon Hill with a small body
of bluejackets and a few Engineers having charge of the 4.7 naval gun,
which they had brought up overnight for mounting in that position, but
it still remained on a bullock waggon. Next to them were several
companies of the King's Royal Rifles under Colonel Gore-Browne, while
the Manchester Regiment held Cæsar's Camp with pickets pushed forward to
the southern crest and eastern shoulder. Nearly the whole length of
ridge hence to Waggon Hill is a rough plateau, strong but presenting
little cover from artillery fire or the rifles of any foe bold enough to
scale the heights under cover of darkness. It was scarcely entrenched at
all, having only a few sangars dotted about as rallying-points. The
Boer movements were marked by a searchlight from Bulwaan, which played
for hours in a curious way across Intombi Hospital Camp to the posts
occupied by our men, intensifying the obscurity of all-surrounding
blackness.

All we know absolutely is that long before dawn Free Staters were in
possession of the western end of Bester's Ridge, where Waggon Hill dips
steeply down from the curiously tree-fringed shoulder in bold bluffs to
a lower neck, and thence on one side to the valley in which Bester's
Farm lies amid trees, and on the other to broad veldt that is dominated
by Blaauwbank (or Rifleman's Ridge), and enfiladed by Telegraph
Hill--both Boer positions having guns of long range mounted on them; and
at the same time Transvaalers, mostly Heidelberg men, had gained a
footing on the eastern end of the same ridge where boulders in Titanic
masses, matted together by roots of mimosa trees, rise cliff-like from
the plain where Klip River, emerging from thorny thickets, bends
northward to loop miles of fertile meadow-land before flowing back into
the narrow gorge past Intombi Spruit Camp. How the Boers got there one
can only imagine, for neither the Imperial Light Horse pickets on Waggon
Hill, nor the Manchesters holding the very verge of that cliff which we
call Cæsar's Camp and the Kaffirs Intombi, nor the mixed force of
volunteers and police watching the scrub lower down, saw any form or
heard a movement during the night. It was intensely dark for two or
three hours, but in that still air a steenbok's light leap from rock to
rock would have struck sharply on listening ears. Those on picket duty
aver that not a Boer could have shown himself or passed through the
mimosa scrub without being challenged. Yet four or five hundred of them
got to the jutting crest, of Cæsar's Camp somehow, and to reach it they
must either have crossed open ground or climbed with silent caution up
the boulder-roughened steeps.

An explanation may perhaps be found in the fact that a Boer takes off
his boots or vel-schoon when there is noiseless stalking to be done.
Going over the battlefield afterwards I noticed that where dead Boers
were lying thickest about the salient angle of that eastern space, all
were bare-footed. Boots and even rubber-soled canvas shoes had been
taken off for the climb, and these lay in pairs beside the bodies, just
as they had been placed when the fight began. And the spots on which
these Boers lay seemed to indicate that they must have scaled the steep
just where a sentry among the rocks on top would have found most
difficulty in seeing anything as he peered over jutting edges into the
darkness below. At any rate the Manchester picket was surprised before
dawn, as I shall describe presently, though it should have been put on
the alert by rifle firing an hour earlier away on Waggon Hill, where
the fight began between two and three o'clock. Then, however, it seemed
little more than the sniping between outposts, to which custom has made
all of us somewhat inattentive, and nobody thought for a moment that a
picket of Imperial Light Horse had been practically cut off before the
Boers fired a shot or our own men had given an alarm.

Waggon Hill was at that moment the key of a very critical situation, and
had the Light Horse been seized by panic, or given way an inch, the
Boers might possibly have brought enormous numbers up to that commanding
crest and enfiladed the rear of Cæsar's Camp. We know now that thousands
of Free Staters were waiting in the kloofs between Mounted Infantry Hill
and Middle Hill, not two miles distant, for the opportunity which, they
had no doubt, would be opened up to them by the success of five or six
hundred tough veterans who had volunteered to win that position or die
in the attempt. They had, however, to reckon with men whose gallantry
was proved at Elandslaagte and the night attack on Gun Hill--men who are
endowed with the rare quality which Napoleon the Great called "two
o'clock in the morning courage." One has to praise the Imperial Light
Horse so often, that reiteration may sound like flattery. But they
deserve every distinction that can be given to them for having by superb
steadiness, against great odds, saved the force on Bester's Ridge from a
very serious calamity, if not from actual disaster. They must share the
credit to some extent, however, with two small bodies of men already
mentioned, who happened to be on Waggon Hill neither for fighting nor
watch-keeping--the few bluejackets of H.M.S. _Powerful_ in charge of the
big gun which had been brought up that night for mounting there, and the
handful of Royal Engineers under Lieutenants Digby-Jones and Dennis,
preparing the necessary epaulements for that weapon. When firing began,
the gun being still on its waggon, all that could be done was to outspan
its team of oxen. Then bluejackets and sappers, seizing each his rifle,
took their places behind slight earthworks, prepared to fight it out
manfully. The only tribute they need ask for is that their roll of dead
and wounded may be borne in memory. Out of thirty all told, the Royal
Engineers lost two officers killed and fifteen men wounded. Of the few
sailors, one was killed and one wounded. This record seems hard to beat;
but the Imperial Light Horse could point to heaps of dead and maimed in
proof of the dauntless stand they made, for the living continued to
fight where their gallant comrades fell, scorning to quit an inch of
ground to the Boers, though they knew by the rifle fire flashing round
them in the darkness that they were hopelessly outnumbered from the
first. Their brigadier speaks of them as men with no nerves at all. When
one was hit, another stepped quietly up to his place and went on
shooting as if at target-practice, though he had no more cover than a
small stone to lie behind; and this happened not once but a score of
times, the officers taking an equal share in the fight with their men,
who speak with pride of the gallantry shown by Captains de Rothe and
Codrington, Lieutenants Webb, Pakeman, Adams, Campbell, and Richardson,
and the active veteran Major Doveton, who cheered his men on after he
had received two bullet wounds, one of which shattered his fore-arm and
shoulder.

By that time the sun was rising above Bulwaan in a halo of orange,
crimson, and purple, and men could count the grim faces of their
enemies. Ladysmith was aroused at dawn by the rattle of incessant rifle
fire rolling along Bester's Ridge from end to end. Up to that time no
big guns had spoken on either side, and people came out of their houses
slowly, in sulky humour at having their rest disturbed before the
conventional hour for shelling to begin. While they listened to the
continuous crackling as of damp sticks in a huge bonfire, few among them
realised that the sounds indicated anything more serious than a Boer
demonstration which would fizzle out quickly, and even when bullets
began to fall in the town itself, or went whistling away overhead, the
only comment made was that Mauser rifles must have a marvellous range if
they could send bullets so far beyond the ridge aimed at.

Bulwaan's 6-inch Creusot opened fire as the sun rose behind it in a
splendour of orange and crimson clouds. The white smoke changed to
wreaths of blue and deep purple against that glowing sky, while people
waited to hear the gurgling scream of a shell. It did not come the way
they expected, but burst above the dark crest of Cæsar's Camp. Then the
watchers, relieved because the big guns had found other occupation than
battering down houses, went back to bed or to their morning baths,
little thinking that the fate of Ladysmith was at the moment dependent
on men who lay among rocks, or behind grass tussocks, looking through
rifle sights at such short range that they could almost see the colour
of each other's eyes.

Colonel Hamilton, who had ridden out with his staff, and accompanied by
Colonel F. Rhodes, to the highest knoll of Bester's Ridge, grasped the
situation quickly and ordered up reinforcements. The Boers who had crept
round the crest of the eastern steep, which I have called by its Kaffir
name Intombi, were even then almost up to the camp that Colonel Hamilton
had quitted half an hour earlier, but screened from the Manchester
battalion's fire by a swell of the ground in front. Their further
progress, however, was stayed by a counter attack from Border Mounted
Rifles and Natal Volunteers whom Colonel Royston brought up to reinforce
the Frontier Police under Major Clark, who had been holding that point
with dogged determination since dawn. The brigadier, seeing that for a
time no headway was being made by the enemy against Cæsar's Camp,
turned his attention towards Waggon Hill and sent Lord Ava forward to
reconnoitre from the spot where Colonel Edwardes, with the main body of
Imperial Light Horse, reduced to less than half its original strength by
losses in former actions, was making a gallant effort to relieve the
remnants of two squadrons from their perilous plight on Waggon Hill.
Lord Ava watched its issue from the fighting line beside men with whom
he had scaled the rough heights of Elandslaagte and the stiffer steeps
of Gun Hill. As he raised himself upon a small boulder to look through
glasses at the enemy, who were pouring in a hail of bullets from a
distance of little more than 150 yards, a bullet struck him in the
forehead, and there he lay, apparently lifeless, with every sense dead
to the din of war about him. A few minutes later Colonel Frank Rhodes
heard that a staff-officer had been hit. He came at once to the
conclusion that it was the young friend who had been his companion daily
since they sailed from England early in September. As he went forward to
make sure, Lieutenant Lannowe, of the 4th Dragoon Guards, aide-de-camp
to Colonel Hamilton, joined him, and these two, passing unscathed across
the shot-torn slopes, found Lord Ava lying sorely wounded, but still
alive, where Boer bullets were falling thickest about the Imperial Light
Horse. They carried him to a place of less danger, and there Colonel
Rhodes bandaged the wound, while a skilful surgeon's aid was being
summoned. By that time Majors Julian, of the Royal Army Medical Corps,
and Davis, medical officer of the Imperial Light Horse, had their hands
full, having rendered aid to many wounded men under the heaviest fire,
utterly regardless of danger to themselves. The first operation, without
which recovery would have been hopeless, was, however, performed there,
while Mauser bullets whistled through the air, and Lord Ava, still
unconscious, was borne from the field.

The few bluejackets, Gordons, Imperial Light Horse, and Engineers, under
Lieutenant Digby-Jones, R.E., were still holding their ground manfully
on the extreme westerly crest of Waggon Hill. The Boers were within
point-blank range of them on two sides, while beyond the crest and down
into Bester's Valley hundreds of others were waiting for the first sign
of panic among our men to rush the position, but held in check by a
company of the 60th Rifles and a few Light Horse occupying a small
sangar on that side. The ridge, however, was being shelled by the
enemy's guns from Middle Hill and Blaauwbank with such accuracy that
many of our men were wounded by that fire, but not a Boer was hit,
though the fighting lines were less than 100 yards apart. The 21st
Battery Field Artillery, out in comparatively open ground beyond Range
Post, swept with shrapnel the slopes and kloofs of Mounted Infantry Hill
on one side, and Major Goulburn's battery, the 42nd, searched the
reverse slope of that knoll, smiting the head of a movement by which our
foes tried to strengthen their attack. The Natal artillery had done
similar service at an earlier stage against another body, and though
under heavy rifle fire they still stuck to their guns manfully. Our
naval 12-pounder mounted near this battery, but having double the range,
played upon Middle Hill, trying by rapid and accurate fire to silence
the big Creusot gun there, or baffle its aim.

This was the favourable opportunity seized by Colonel Hamilton for
sending forward Major Miller-Wallnutt with one company of Gordons to
reinforce the little group of bluejackets, Light Horse, Engineers, and
Highlanders who were fighting so desperately hard to beat the Boers
back. A little later Major Campbell reached Waggon Hill with four
companies of the "Second Sixtieth," but their fire failed to dislodge
the Boers, and the Gordons, under Miller-Wallnutt, were being sorely
pressed, the Boers having a number of picked shots among the rocks on
two sides whence they could bring a deadly fire to bear on the flanks of
any force that might attempt to cross the open ground between. General
Hamilton, however, seeing that risks must be taken, or the Gordons would
be in perilous plight, sent two companies of Rifles forward in
succession, but smitten in front by artillery fire from Middle Hill and
Blaauwbank, while their flanks were raked by rifle bullets, they halted
and took such cover as could be found among small stones. A company
being then called upon to rush the open space, Lieutenant Todd asked for
permission to try first with a small body, and this being granted he led
a mere handful of ready volunteers forward. The gallant young officer,
however, had not gone many yards before he was shot dead, and the men
fell back disheartened by the loss of one whom they would have followed
anywhere, because they recognised in him the qualities of a born leader.

After that there were moments of humiliation when it seemed as if the
possibility of holding Waggon Hill hung upon a mere chance. Once
surprised by finding Boers within fifty yards, the whole forward line of
Rifles and Highlanders gave way, retiring over the crest with a
precipitancy that threatened to sweep back supports and all in a general
confusion. But it was no more than a momentary panic, such as the best
troops in the world may be subject to, and our men were quick to rally
when they heard themselves called upon for another effort, and saw
officers springing up the hill again towards that shot-fretted crest
where several Engineers and bluejackets, with the Imperial Light Horse,
still clung as if they had looked on Medusa's head, and become part of
the rocks among which they lay, only that their forefingers were playing
about the triggers, ready in a moment to give back shot for shot to the
Boers. And when deeds of heroism were being performed by Major
Miller-Wallnutt; Lieutenant Digby-Jones, R.E., Gunner Sims of the Royal
Navy, and Lieutenant Fitzgerald, 11th Hussars, who met their enemies
face to face, the irregular troopers were not slow to take their part in
fighting at close quarters. Trooper Albrecht, of the Imperial Light
Horse, especially distinguished himself by shooting two of the Boers who
were at that moment within a few yards of Digby-Jones with rifles
levelled, and the young Engineer lieutenant, whose repeated acts of
bravery might have merited the Victoria Cross, accounted for the other
before he in turn was mortally wounded. Many tough old Free State Boers,
who took all the brunt of fighting on this hill, behaved with the
greatest intrepidity, winning admiration from foes who were yet eager to
try a death-grip with them.

Here Hendrick Truiter fought as he did at Majuba in the forefront, and
got off scot-free, though he presents a target many cubits broad;
gigantic John Wessels of Van Reenan's; Commandants De Jaagers and Van
Wyck, both killed; Wepenaar, who seemed to exercise authority above them
all; and Japic de Villiers, Commandant of the Wetzies Hoek district, a
man among men in his disregard of danger. When he fell dead, after
making his way close up to our sangar and shooting Major
Miller-Wallnutt, the Orange Free State lost one of its foremost citizens
and bravest fighters. If the supports swarming thickly in Bester's
Valley and the kloofs behind Mounted Infantry Hill had come on with
anything like the determination shown by the intrepid 500 who first
seized Waggon Hill, there must have been many anxious moments for our
General. As it was we had regained and still held the position, but
without driving the Boers from their hiding-places within fifty yards of
the crest.

But now it is time that we should turn our attention to a post three
miles eastward, where an equally stubborn fight had been waged about
Intombi Spur, and the fringes of a plateau, 800 yards wide, in front of
the Manchester Battalion sangars on Cæsar's camp. There the pickets had
been surprised, just about the time of relief, half an hour before dawn.
There are differences of opinion, and some acrimonious discussions as to
the means by which 500 Boers of the Heidelberg Commando, under Greyling,
had succeeded in getting to a position which commanded much of that
plateau before anybody had the slightest suspicion that enemies were
near. At the outset I suggested an explanation which seems to be
strengthened by every fact that I can gather. They came barefooted up
the cliff-like face of Intombi Spur on its southern side, and crept
round near its crest until they had command of the whole shoulder,
practically cutting off the Manchester sentries from their pickets, but
taking care to raise no premature alarm. Their rule apparently was to
wait for the sound of firing on Waggon Hill, whereby our attention
might be diverted that way, and then to begin their own attack on a
weakened flank.

This is nearly what happened, except that the Manchesters were put on
the alert by signs of an attack about Waggon Hill more serious than any
preceding it, and made preparations for strengthening their own outpost
line. But it was then too late. The Boers were upon them, ready to open
fire from behind rocks. As Lieutenant Hunt-Grubbe was coming forward to
examine the sentries, shadowy forms sprang out of the darkness and
surrounded him. Then one who was in the uniform of a Border Mounted
Rifleman called to the picket, "We are the Town Guard! surrender!" The
sergeant, however, was not to be caught in that trap, but replied, "We
surrender to nobody," and then ordered his men to fire. In a moment the
air was torn by bullets from all sides, and the picket fell back
fighting towards its own supports, not knowing then that the young
officer had been left a prisoner in the enemy's hands. He was well
treated by his captors, except that they kept him under fire from his
own men so long as a forward position could be maintained, and when that
became too hot they forced him to creep back with them to the cover of
other rocks. He did not want much forcing, being glad enough to wriggle
across the intervening space, where bullets fell unpleasantly thick, as
fast as possible. There he lay close, but kept his eyes open, and saw
something that may furnish a key to the success of Transvaal Boers in
scaling a difficult height that must have been quite strange to them.

Prominent in one group was a young man whom Hunt-Grubbe thought he
recognised. For a long time the face puzzled him, but at last he
remembered having seen a counterfeit presentment of it, or one very
similar, in a photographic group of the Bester family. A Bester would
know every rock and cranny of that hill with a familiarity which would
make light or darkness indifferent to him. Lieutenant Hunt-Grubbe made
mental notes also of Boer tactics, by which they gave a great impression
of numbers. A group would gather at one point and keep up rapid firing
for some time, then double under cover to some rocks thirty yards off,
and discharge their rifles there, but always taking care not to throw
any shots away.

In spite of these dodges and good shooting, however, the Boers could
make no headway against the Manchesters, who were by this time extended
across the stony plateau under fire from Boer guns posted among trees on
the far side of Bester's Valley. Neither side in fact could move either
to advance or retire without exposing itself on open ground. Therefore
they stayed blazing away at each other until the grey dawn gave place to
swift sunrise. Then the Boers, who had a heliograph with them behind
Intombi Spur, flashed to Bulwaan the signal "Maak Vecht," and our friend
"Puffing Billy"--as the big 6-inch Creusot is called--promptly made
fight in a way that was astonishing in a weapon whose grooves must be
worn nearly smooth by frequent firing. He threw shell after shell with
vicious rapidity and remarkable accuracy on to the plateau of Cæsar's
Camp, but the shells fortunately did not fall among our men or burst
well.

Just as Colonel Metcalfe arrived at Cæsar's Camp, with four companies of
the Rifle Brigade to reinforce and prolong our fighting line, the Boer
gunners turned their attention to another point, where, in the low
ground among trees by Klip River, Major Abdy was bringing the 53rd Field
Battery into action. This proved to be the turning-point of the fight on
the eastern spur of Bester's Ridge.

Those six guns began throwing time-shrapnel with beautiful precision
just where Boers were thickest. Not a shell seemed to be misplaced, so
far as one could judge, and successive bursts and showers of shrapnel
seemed to wither the immense thickets near Intombi's crest. "Puffing
Billy" turned with an angry growl on Abdy's battery, and this was
followed by many shells fired so rapidly that one began to think the gun
must split under that strain. It went on firing, however, and shell
after shell dropped close to our battery when it was unlimbered on an
open space among mimosa trees. At last a shell burst under one of the
guns, shrouding it and the gunners in a cloud of mingled smoke and mud.
Everybody watched anxiously to see who was hit or what had happened. The
gun, they thought, must surely be disabled, but just as they were saying
so there came a flash out from that cloud. The artillerymen had coolly
taken aim while splinters were flying round them or hitting comrades,
and we saw the shell, aimed under those conditions, burst exactly in the
right place. It was a splendid example of nerve and steadiness under
difficulties, and some spectators, at least, cheered it with cries of
"Well done, gunners." So the 53rd Battery remained in action, doing
splendid service by shelling the Boers on Intombi Spruit and beating
back all attempts of Boer supports to scale the height that way.
"Puffing Billy" went on firing from Bulwaan all this while, and is said
to have got off over 120 rounds during the fight, but its shooting
became very erratic and totally ineffective, while our guns were doing
great execution.

[Illustration: THE BRITISH POSITION AT LADYSMITH, LOOKING EASTWARD]

It was from smaller Boer guns and Mauser rifles that the four companies
of the Rifle Brigade suffered heavily in their attempt to drive the
enemy from Cæsar's Camp plateau into Bester's Valley. One party was
smitten heavily while moving forward in a gallant advance to get within
charging distance. The shattered remnant took cover behind a small ridge
of stones, beyond which there was a little open ground, where Lieutenant
Hall and another wounded officer lay. Repeated attempts made to bring
in these officers failed, because directly a man lifted himself above
the stones he became the target for twenty Boer rifles. The
colour-sergeant of Mr. Hall's company, however, crawled across that
ground, to and fro, three times in as many hours, taking water to the
wounded officers, who lay there under scorching sunshine, unable to move
because even an uplifted hand was enough to draw the Boer fire on
helpless wounded. Lieutenant Hall, whose arm was bleeding badly, turned
over, apparently to bandage it, and another bullet struck him. Such was
the fate of many brave fellows that day, whose stricken state should
have appealed to the mercy of their enemies, but the Boers, unable to
advance, and afraid to retreat so long as daylight lasted, were
seemingly so suspicious of all movements that they saw in every wounded
man a possible foe lurking there for his chance to get a shot at them.
The same excuse, however, cannot be pleaded for one Free State burgher,
who, lying down behind a maimed trooper of the Light Horse, kept up a
fire to which our own men could not reply without fear of hitting their
unlucky comrade.

After the Rifle Brigade had got into action, Colonel Dick-Cunyngham
advanced with three companies of Gordon Highlanders from their camp in
the plain to take the Boers on Intombi spur in flank. He had scarcely
ridden two hundred yards when he fell mortally wounded by a stray
bullet, and the Gordons marched on, leaving behind them the intrepid
leader whom every man would have followed cheerfully into the thickest
fight. They gained the crest, and Captain Carnegie's company sprang
eagerly forward to charge in among the Boers who held Lieutenant
Hunt-Grubbe prisoner. Him they recovered after close conflict, in which
Captain Carnegie was wounded and Colour-Sergeant Price had three
bullet-holes in him, but not before he sent a bayonet-thrust into the
forehead of one Boer with the full force of his strong arm. But the
Gordons could do no more then than lie down among the rocks they had
gained and take part in pot-shooting at the enemy, who dared not budge.

Up to nearly four o'clock the position about Cæsar's Camp did not
change, but on Waggon Hill there had been some alternations and anxious
movements, while the Boers took positions only to be driven from them
again. Then suddenly a great storm of thunder, hail, and rain swept over
the hills, shrouding them in gloom, amid which the rifle fire broke out
with greater fury than ever across Bester's Valley and the ground that
had been stubbornly fought for so long. This sounded like an attack in
force by fresh bodies of Boers who had made their way round from Bulwaan
under cover of the hospital camp at Intombi Spruit. But they never came
within a thousand yards of our position, and though their rifle fire at
that range galled sorely, it was nothing more than a demonstration made
in hope of enabling their comrades on the heights to extricate
themselves. Interest then turned again to Waggon Hill, where, when the
storm was raging most fiercely, part of our line fell back in error, but
the Brigadier and his officers, going forward until within revolver
range of the enemy, restored confidence at that point.

Then three companies of the Devon Regiment marching from their post at
Tunnel Hill, a distance of four miles or more, ascended Waggon Hill, led
by Colonel Park, to whom Brigadier-General Hamilton gave but one laconic
order. Wanting no more than the word to go, the Devons shook themselves
into loose column and swarmed forward for their first rush across the
zone of Boer fire. Having gained a little cover they lay there a while,
and began shooting steadily with slow, deliberate aim, even adopting
quaint subterfuges to draw shots from the Boers before pulling trigger
themselves. Then in the same loose but unwavering formation they dashed
forward in another rush, the sergeants calling upon their comrades to
remember that they were Devons, and every company cheering as it ran
towards the enemy, whose fire began to get a bit wild. Another halt for
firing in the same steady way, and then rising with unbroken front,
though their company leaders had all been hit, the Devons straightened
themselves for a charge. With bayonets bristling they sprang to the
crest, and their cheers rang loud across the hills. A hail of bullets
made gaps in their ranks, but they closed up and pressed forward,
eagerly following their colonel. The Boers, unable to withstand any
longer the sight of that fine front sweeping like fate upon them, fired
a few hundred shots and fled down hill, followed by shots from the
victorious Devons, who in a few minutes more had cleared the position of
every Boer. That was the end of the fight, and though some enemies still
clung to Intombi's crest waiting for darkness, their fire soon
slackened, and the hard-fought battle ended in a complete defeat of the
enemy at all points.

     This brilliant victory, demonstrating to the Boers the vast
     difference between firing from cover on British assailants and
     attempts to storm positions held in force by our troops, cost the
     army at Lady smith 420 men in killed and wounded. The large
     proportion slain on the spot was remarkable, and was due, no doubt,
     to the close fighting. Fourteen officers were killed and 33
     wounded, while the non-commissioned officers and men killed
     numbered 167, and the wounded 284. The killed included, besides
     Colonel Dick-Cunyngham, Major Mackworth of the 2nd Queen's;
     Lieutenant Hall, Rifle Brigade; Major Miller-Wallnutt, Gordon
     Highlanders; Lieutenant Digby-Jones and Lieutenant Dennis of the
     Royal Engineers, all of whom met death heroically; Captains Lafone
     and Field, who were shot down as they charged at the head of their
     regiment; and many gallant volunteers serving in the ranks of the
     Imperial Light Horse. One company of the Gordons at the close of
     the battle was commanded by a lance-corporal, who was the senior
     officer unwounded. The Imperial Light Horse was commanded by a
     junior captain, and could only muster about 100 men fit for duty
     out of nearly 500. As to the Boer losses, it is difficult to arrive
     at the truth. The Boer has to be badly beaten before he will
     acknowledge having suffered a reverse, and even in such cases every
     endeavour is made to hide the real facts of the case, and the
     acknowledgment is tardily and reluctantly offered. As supplementing
     his description of the memorable struggle, we take the following
     extracts from Mr. Pearse's  diary:----

_January 7._--I rode to-day over the battlefield, where dead Boers still
lay unclaimed, but bearing on them cards that left no doubt about their
identity. I learn that one of that brave little band, the Imperial Light
Horse, wounded early in the fight, was tended gently by a Boer parson,
who bound up his wounds and brought him water under a terrific fire.
Struck by these acts of humanity and devotion to a high sense of duty, I
made inquiries as to the Dutch parson's name. It was Mr. Kestel, pastor
of the Dutch Reformed Church at Harrismith, a Boer only by adoption, a
Devonshire man by birth and descent.

There was to-day a solemn service of thanksgiving in the English Church.
A _Te Deum_ was impressively sung,--Sir George White and his Staff, at
the Archdeacon's invitation, standing at the altar rails,--and was
followed by "God Save the Queen."

_January 8._--Sir Redvers Buller heliographed, congratulating Sir
George White on the gallant defence of Ladysmith by this force, giving
especial praise to the Devons for their behaviour, but making no mention
of the Imperial Light Horse. An unfortunate omission.



CHAPTER XI

WATCHING FOR BULLER

     Sir Redvers Buller's second attempt--A message from the Queen--Last
     sad farewells--Burial of Steevens and Lord Ava--At dead of
     night--Relief army north of the Tugela--Water difficulties
     surmised--A look in at Bulwaan--Spion Kop from afar--What the
     watchers saw--The Boers trekking--Buller withdraws--The "key"
     thrown away--Good-bye to luxuries--Precautions against
     disease--"Chevril"--The damming of the Klip--Horseflesh
     unabashed--One touch of pathos--Vague memories of home--Sweet music
     from the south--Buller tries again--Disillusionment--The last pipe
     of tobacco.


     Whatever may have been the precise cost to the Boers of their bold
     attempt to rush the British defences on 6th January, it was
     certainly heavy enough to prevent its being renewed. From this time
     forward they settled themselves resignedly to wait until disease
     and starvation in the town should have done for them what their
     best and bravest had failed to do, man against man. And, indeed,
     disease following upon many long weeks of privation, of nights and
     days passed in the trenches under drenching rain, or the fierce
     rays of the African sun, began now to make havoc among the troops.
     Many a brave fellow, who had fought and won at Dundee or at
     Elandslaagte, who with fierce, courage had endured in the foremost
     line in the struggle at Bester's Ridge, now fell a victim to
     enteric fever or dysentery in the camp at Intombi. The lists of the
     sick and the mortality returns grew daily more formidable, rations
     soon had to be reduced, and all within the town, patient as had
     been their endurance, now began to look eagerly towards the relief
     that Sir Redvers Buller had promised in a month. As the time
     approached at which his second attempt to force the Tugela might be
     expected, hope revived. The relieving column, it was known, had
     been reinforced, and it seemed impossible that the enemy could once
     again bar its progress.

     During the fierce fighting at Ladysmith there were times when Sir
     George White had grave fears that he would not be longer able to
     hold the defences against the enemy. The fortunes of the day, as
     the hours lengthened, were reflected in a series of telegrams which
     were flashed through by him to Sir Redvers Buller in his camp south
     of the Tugela. One of these brief heliograms reported that the
     defenders were "hard pressed," and in the afternoon, somewhat
     tardily as it seems, General Buller made a demonstration with all
     his available force towards the enemy's trenches. The object was to
     hold the Boers to their positions on the river, and to prevent the
     commandos attacking Ladysmith from being reinforced. As far as
     could be ascertained the enemy, however, were in full strength on
     the north side of the river, and after ineffectual efforts had been
     made to draw their fire the British force returned to camp. Within
     four days of this movement, Sir Redvers Buller advanced westward
     from Chieveley to make his second attempt to cross the Tugela and
     to relieve the town; and it is with the hopes inspired there by the
     news and with the tense anxiety with which every indication of
     advance or retreat on the distant hills was watched by the
     beleaguered garrison, that Mr. Pearse's notes at this time in great
     measure deal.

_January 11._--The bombardment has gone on vigorously for several days,
and the Boers are busy on new works, probably with the idea of
"bluffing" us into the belief that they mean to mount new guns, while in
reality they are sending reinforcements southward to intercept General
Buller. The reception yesterday of a message from the Queen thanking the
troops here for their gallant defence aroused much enthusiasm. Lord
Ava's death to-day causes profound regret in every regiment of
Hamilton's Brigade and other camps, where his soldierly qualities and
manly bearing made him a favourite with men and officers alike.
Conspicuous for pluck among the bravest, he met death--where he had
faced it in nearly every action since joining this force--with the
righting line. Of all who fell dead or mortally wounded in the heroic
defence of Bester's Ridge, none will be more sincerely mourned than he.
The civilians of Ladysmith join with the troops in expressions of
respectful sympathy to Lord Dufferin and his family. To-night Lord Ava's
body was buried in the little cemetery, a scene impressive in its simple
solemnity. Brigadier-General Hamilton with his staff; Colonel Rhodes;
Major King, A.D.C., representing the Headquarters Staff, with Sir George
White's personal aide-de-camp; several officers of the Imperial Light
Horse, among whom Lord Ava was wounded; Captain Tilney of Lord Ava's
old regiment; officers of the 5th Lancers, Gordon Highlanders, and Royal
Artillery; several prominent townsmen, and five war correspondents stood
beside the grave.

_January 15._--Early this morning sixty shots from heavy guns were heard
far off to the southward, giving us hope that General Buller had begun
his promised advance for our relief. A few hours later I received a
heliograph message from my eldest son, whom I supposed to be still in
England, saying that he was with the South African Light Horse on
probation for a lieutenancy. To-night there was another sorrowful
gathering of correspondents in the cemetery, round the grave of our
brilliant colleague, G.W. Steevens, who died this afternoon from a
sudden relapse, when most of us hoped that he was on the way to
recovery. Bulwaan searchlight, shining on us like a Cyclops' eye,
followed the sad procession along miles of winding road to the cemetery,
then left us in darkness beside the grave where our comrade was buried
at midnight. He had been tenderly nursed throughout his long illness by
Mr. Maud of the _Graphic_, who was chief mourner. He died in the house
of Mr. Fortescue Carter, the historian of the previous Boer War.

_January 18._--Kaffir runners report that General Lyttelton's division
crossed the Tugela at Potgieter's Drift yesterday, and Sir Charles
Warren's at Trichard's Drift to-day. We also hear of Lord Dundonald
being near Acton Homes with a force of Irregular Horse, some of whom
wear sakkabulu feathers in their hats and carry "assegais." Possibly
these are Lancers, but we cannot identify them. These stories may be
true, for we hear heavy firing in the south-west at frequent intervals.
The Intelligence Department expects an attack on one of our outposts
to-night. Therefore we may go to bed and sleep in peace.

_January 22._--Since Friday Sir Redvers Buller's guns have been pounding
away for several hours of every day, beginning sometimes at dawn or
carrying on far into the night. The throbbing vibrations of heavy
artillery afar off seemed to fill the air all through Sunday, and we
have seen shells bursting along the heights of Intaba Mnyama or Black
Mountain, not much more than twelve miles in a straight line from
Ladysmith. If our troops are attacking positions successively where
there is no more water than can be brought to them from the Tugela they
must be having a hard time, for the shade temperature at midday rises to
104°, and we know by experience what that means in the full blaze of
sunshine on bare kopjes where the smooth boulders feel scorchingly hot
to the touch. I watch the distant cannonade with a keen personal
interest, for when there is fighting along the Tugela the South African
Light Horse are surely in it.

Before daybreak this morning Colonel Knox, in command of Mounted
Infantry, Carabiniers, Border Mounted Rifles, and a detachment of
Colonel Dartnell's Frontier Field Force went out to make a
reconnaissance round one shoulder of Bulwaan. They got up through the
wooded neck, had a look into the Boer position but saw not an enemy, and
got back without having a shot fired at them until they showed in the
plain again. Then ping! ping! came the Mauser bullets, and a "Pom-Pom"
opened on them. Colonel Knox gave an order for his men to form loose
order and gallop, and thus they got out of danger with not a man hit.

_January 24._--All day long I have watched from Observation Buller's
batteries shelling the whole range of Intaba Mnyama from the peaked
"paps" or "sisters," past the Kloof north-west of them, and along the
more commanding Hog's Back. The Boers call part of this range Spion Kop,
and that name has been adopted by our Intelligence Staff as presenting
less difficulties of orthography than the Zulu designation. So Spion Kop
it must be henceforth. From a laager behind one peak I saw an ambulance
cart with its Red Cross flag go up to the crest, which seemed a
dangerous place for it, especially as a piece of light artillery opened
beside the cart a moment later. I could see needles of light flashing
out like electric sparks, only redder, but could hear no report. Nothing
but a "Pom-Pom" could have made those quivering flashes, yet how it got
there with an ambulance cart beside it I must leave the Boers to
explain. The shelling of heights with Lyddite and shrapnel went on hour
after hour, and towards evening some thought they heard a faint sound
as of rifle volleys. The Boers came hurrying down in groups from Spion
Kop's crest, their waggons were trekking from laagers across the plain
towards Van Reenan's, and men could be seen rounding up cattle as if for
a general rearward movement. To us watching it seemed as if the Boers
were beaten and knew it.

_January 25._--The Boer trek continued for several hours this morning
and well on into the afternoon, when it slackened. Then we saw some
horsemen turn back to make for the cleft ridge of Doorn Kloof, where one
of the big Creusots had opened fire, Buller's naval guns or howitzers
replying with Lyddite shells. The roar of our field-guns has died away
instead of drawing nearer, and we look in vain for any sign of British
cavalry on the broad plain, where they should be by now if Sir Redvers
Buller's infantry attack had succeeded.

_January 26._--The Boers are back in their former laagers. There is no
sound of fighting this side of the Tugela, only a few shells falling on
Spion Kop, where Boer tents can be seen once more whitening the steep.
We need no heliograph signal to tell us the meaning of all this. For us
there is to be another sickening period of hope deferred; but we try to
hide our dejection, and persuade the anxious townsfolk that it is only a
necessary pause while General Buller brings up his big guns and
transport.

_January 28._--It is now no longer possible to conceal the fact that the
fight on Spion Kop ended in another reverse for General Buller, though
from our side it seemed as if he had the enemy beaten and demoralised.
It is now published in orders that he captured the heights with part of
one brigade which, however, retired after General Woodgate was wounded,
when the Boers retook it. From Kaffir runners we hear another version
which makes out that our troops were complete masters of the situation
if there had been any one in command at that moment, with a soldier's
genius, prompt to take advantage of the enemy's discomfiture. Had
reinforcements been sent up in time Spion Kop need never have been
abandoned, and Buller might have kept the key to Ladysmith which was
then in his hands. Not another position between him and us remained for
the Boers to make a stand on. He would then have outflanked and made
untenable the entrenched heights facing Colenso. But perhaps he was
anxious about his own line of communications. We only know that he has
gone back, and the work accomplished at much sacrifice of life must be
done over again from some other point.

_January 30._--In spite of all we know, there are still persistent
rumours rosy-hued but all equally improbable. According to these
Kimberley has been relieved, and Lord Roberts is marching on
Bloemfontein. Sir Redvers Buller has retaken Spion Kop. He has gained a
victory at some other point, but where or when nobody knows. Four
hundred Boers are surrounded south of the Tugela with no chance of
escape. A similar rumour reached us weeks ago. Those four hundred Boers
must be getting short of food by this time. And yet another story makes
out that numbers of the enemy attempting to fall upon Buller's supply
column at Skiet's Drift were completely annihilated. The _Standard and
Diggers' News_ could hardly beat this for imaginative ingenuity. It does
not reassure us. On the contrary a general feeling of depression seems
to have set in, caused perhaps by the ennervating weather. A deluge of
rain has drenched the land, from which mephitic vapours rise to clog our
spirits. The knowledge that rations are running short may also have some
effect. We have not felt the strain severely yet. There is no reduction
in the issue of meat or bread, but luxuries drop out of the list one by
one, and the quantities of tea, sugar, coffee, and similar things
diminish ominously. Vegetables were exhausted long ago, and a daily
ration of vinegar has been ordered for every man, whose officer must see
that he gets it, as a precaution against scurvy.

_February 1._--It has come at last. Horseflesh is to be served out for
food, instead of being buried or cremated. We do not take it in the
solid form yet, or at least not consciously, but Colonel Ward has set up
a factory, with Lieutenant McNalty as managing director, for the
conversion of horseflesh into extract of meat under the inviting name
of Chevril. This is intended for use in hospitals, where nourishment in
that form is sorely needed, since Bovril and Liebig are not to be had.
It is also ordered that a pint of soup made from this Chevril shall be
issued daily to each man. I have tasted the soup and found it excellent,
prejudice notwithstanding. We have no news from General Buller beyond a
heliogram, warning us that a German engineer is coming with a plan in
his pocket for the construction of some wonderful dam which is to hold
back the waters of the Klip River and flood us out of Ladysmith.

_February 3._--Horseflesh was placed frankly on the bill of fare to-day
as a ration for troops and civilians alike, but many of the latter
refused to take it. Hunger will probably make them less squeamish, but
one cannot help sympathising with the weakly, who are already suffering
from want of proper nourishment, and for whom there is no alternative.
Market prices have long since gone beyond the reach of ordinary purses.

_February 4._--One pathetic incident touched me nearly this morning, as
a forerunner of many that may come soon. I found sitting on a doorstep,
apparently too weak to move, a young fellow of the Imperial Light
Horse--scarcely more than a boy--his stalwart form shrunken by illness.
He was toying with a spray of wild jasmine, as if its perfume brought
back vague memories of home. I learned that he had been wounded at
Elandslaagte and again on Waggon Hill. Then came Intombi and malaria. He
had only been discharged from hospital that morning. His appetite was
not quite equal to the horseflesh test, so he had gone without food. I
took him to my room and gave him such things as a scanty store could
furnish, with the last dram of whisky for a stimulant, and I never felt
more thankful than at that moment for the health and strength that give
an appetite robust enough for any fare.

_February 5._--Just now one could not be wakened by a more welcome sound
than the boom of Buller's guns. It stirred the hazy stillness at dawn
this morning like sweet music. It grew louder and apparently nearer as
the morning advanced, until in imagination one could mark the positions
of individual batteries pounding away opposite Colenso and Skiet's
drift. At last the roar died away in sullen growls, giving us the hope
that a position had been gained.

_February 6._--Again at daybreak we hear the guns of our relieving force
at work in a vigorous cannonade away to the south-west, where Skiet's
Drift lies. They quicken at times to twenty shots a minute, the field
batteries chiming in faintly between the rounds of heavier artillery.
From Observation Hill we can see the enemy's Creusot on a notched ridge
by Doom Kloof replying. Soon after seven o'clock a lyddite shell bursts
there. Its red glare is followed by flame that does not come from
lyddite. Above this darts a black dense cloud speckled with solid
fragments that shoot into the air like bombs. Before we have time to
think that a magazine has been blown up a double report, merging into a
low rumble, reaches our ears. Something has happened to the Boer
battery, and the big gun there remains silent. Buller's artillery
continues firing, more slowly but steadily, at the rate of eight shots a
minute, and rifle fire can be heard rolling nearer all the afternoon.
Boers are reported to be inspanning their teams and collecting cattle on
the plains. The distance is dulled by mists, and the Drakensberg peaks
are only dimly visible, but there are clouds of dust winding that way,
and we know that the Boer waggons are trekking on the off-chance that a
general retirement may be forced upon them. Is this hundredth day of
siege to be the last, or shall we wake to-morrow to hear that the Boer
laagers are back again, and the relieving force once more south of the
Tugela?

_February 7._--Sir Redvers Buller evidently finds that the new key of
the road to Ladysmith fits no better than the old, and we begin to doubt
whether he will be able to force the lock yet. Skiet's Drift is a
difficult way, leading through a bushy country scarred with dongas and
commanded by successive ridges, of which the Boers, with their great
mobility and rapidity of concentration, know how to make the most. They
still hold Monger's Hill, and their big gun has opened again from the
notched ridge by Doom Kloof. Buller's guns are hammering at these
positions, but apparently with little effect, for to every salvo from
them the big Creusot makes reply. Nor is there any sign now of a Boer
movement towards the rear. On the contrary, they have a new camp,
possibly of hospital tents, where Long Valley merges into Doom Kloof,
and almost within range of our naval guns if we had them mounted on
Waggon Hill.

While the fight rages near Tugela heights we are left in comparative
peace here. "Puffing Billy" has not opened to-day, and his twin brother
of Telegraph Hill has been silent many days. Probably he was taken away
to reinforce the artillery now opposing General Buller's advance. If
relief does not come soon we shall have something worse than privation
to dread, for scurvy has broken out at Intombi camp, where medical
comforts are scarce, having been frittered away by the negligence or
dishonesty of hospital attendants, over whom nobody seems to exercise
proper control. The mismanagement of affairs there and the whole system
of hospital administration at Ladysmith will have to be investigated
after the siege. At noon to-day we had hopes that the Boer right flank
was being hard pressed. That is the only practicable way in, but the
effort has apparently not been pushed far. The heliograph has begun to
blink out a long message, and that is always a bad sign.

_February 8._--Small things assume an importance altogether out of
proportion just now, and one worries about a last pipe of tobacco when
issues of vital moment to us are being fought out ten miles off. I have
come to the end of mine, and there is no more to be got for love or
money. A ton of Kaffir leaf has just been requisitioned from coolies,
who were selling it at twelve shillings the pound to soldiers, and who
have now to accept a twelfth of that price. There are thus thirty-six
thousand ounces for distribution, but even that quantity will not last
long. Nobody would have the heart to take any of it from soldiers who
have been reduced for weeks past to smoking dried sun-flower leaves and
even tea-leaves. Six shots were fired from Bulwaan battery this
afternoon after a silence of nearly two days. We generally accept such
sudden outbursts as indicating that something has gone wrong with our
enemies elsewhere, but we can see no signs of hurried movement among
them, and though General Buller's guns have been active half the day
they sound no nearer. A long message was heliographed through just
before sunset, and rumours of ill news are whispered about with bated
breath by people who wish to establish a reputation for early knowledge,
but at the risk of being charged before a court-martial with the
dissemination of news calculated to cause despondency. We had a case of
that kind the other day when Foss, the champion swimmer of South Africa,
was rightly convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for deprecating the
skill of our generals in conversation with soldiers. Tommy may hold his
own opinions on that point, but he resents hearing them expressed for
him through a pro-Boer mouthpiece, and this man may consider himself
lucky to escape summary chastisement as a preliminary to the durance
vile which is intended to be a wholesome warning for others of like
tendency.

     And indeed the garrison and civilians of Ladysmith, who now began
     to feel the sharp pinch of hunger, had need to silence any whose
     voices might be raised to rob them of their attenuated hopes. No
     official statement had yet been made on the subject, but it was
     already becoming evident that they had yet a time of painful
     waiting before relief could come. To the hundred days which they
     had trusted might complete the period of their trial a score were
     to be added before their sufferings could be forgotten in the joy
     of deliverance.



CHAPTER XII

AFTER ONE HUNDRED DAYS

     Boer pæan of victory--Rations cut down--Sausage without
     mystery--The "helio" moves east--Sick and dying at Intombi--Famine
     prices at market--Laughter quits the camps--A kindly thing by the
     enemy--Good news at last--Heroes in tatters--The distant tide of
     battle--Pulse-like throb of rifles--Two sons for the
     Empire--British infantry on Monte Cristo--Boer ambulances moving
     north--"'Ave you 'eard the noos?"--Rations increased--Bulwaan
     strikes his tents--"With a rifle and a red cross"--Buller "going
     strong"--Cronje's surrender--A sorry celebration--"A beaten army in
     full retreat"--"Puffing Billy" dismantled--General Buller's
     message--Relief at hand.


     Sir Redvers Buller's third attempt to force his way through to
     Ladysmith failed on 8th February, when he withdrew his forces from
     Vaalkranz to the south side of the Tugela. Their success was
     announced by the Boers about Ladysmith in their own way. At
     half-past two on the morning of 9th February, night was rent by the
     sudden glare of a search-light from Bulwaan, and soon came the
     scream of shells hurtling over the town. It was the Boer pæan of
     victory, and it sent the people hurrying to their underground
     refuges, to which the unco' guid had given the name of
     "funk-holes," but did no damage. Its purport was half-divined by
     the defenders. The news was still said to be good, but there were
     head-shakings, and even the stoutest optimism found itself unequal
     to the strain when it was announced that rations were to be cut
     down. If things were going well, "Why, in the name of success,"
     asks Mr. Pearse in his notes for 9th February, "should our
     universal provider, Colonel Ward, take this occasion to reduce
     rations? We are now down to 1 lb. of meat, including horse, four
     ounces of mealie meal, four ounces of bread, with a sausage ration
     daily 'as far as possible.' Sausages may be mysteries elsewhere,
     but we know them here to be horse-flesh, highly spiced, and nothing
     more. Bread is a brown, 'clitty' mixture of mealie meal, starch,
     and the unknown. Vegetables we have none, except a so-called wild
     spinach that overgrew every neglected garden, and could be had for
     the taking until people discovered how precious it was. Tea is
     doled out at the rate of one-sixth of an ounce to each adult daily,
     or in lieu thereof, coffee mixed with mealie meal."

     February 10 was the day which had been looked forward to as the one
     on which relief would arrive. It did not come, and though the
     messages flashed over the hills from the beleaguered town at the
     time were full of an heroic cheerfulness, the disappointment was
     hard to bear. For with rations reduced, with disease harvesting for
     death where fire and steel had failed, the defenders were now face
     to face with the grimmer realities of war. Yet hope was never
     absent, and never at any time did the stern determination to bid
     the enemy defiance to the last flicker or grow fainter. Mr.
     Pearse's diary for this period gives many details of the highest
     interest of the position in the town, and suggests the sufferings,
     while it does justice to the splendid spirit of the  garrison:--

_February 10._--Heliograph signals have been twinkling spasmodically,
but their language is written in a sealed book. We only know that these
"helios" come not from kopjes this side of Tugela, nor from the former
signal-station south of Potgieter's and Skiet's Drifts, as they did a
few days ago, but from hills near Weenen, as in the months before Buller
crossed the Tugela, thus indicating a retrograde movement. It may be a
hopeful sign of communication with some flanking column away eastward,
and therefore kept secret, but we have our doubts. Depression sets in
again, and, as always happens when there is bad news or dread of it, the
death-rate at Intombi Hospital camp has gone up to fifteen in a single
day. Since the date of investment four hundred and eighty patients have
died there from all causes. It does not seem a large proportion out of
the eighteen thousand under treatment from time to time, but it is very
high in view of the fact that we have only had thirty-six soldiers and
civilians in all killed by the thousands of shells that have been hurled
at us in fifteen weeks.

The market's sensitive pulse also shows that there is a suspicion of
something wrong. Black tobacco in small quantities may still be had by
those who care to pay forty-five shillings for a half-pound cake of it,
as one Sybarite did to-day. A box of fifty inferior cigars sold for
£6:10s., a packet of ten Virginia cigarettes for twenty-five shillings,
and eggs at forty-eight shillings a dozen. Soldiers who cannot hope to
supplement their meagre rations by private purchases at this rate stroll
about the streets languid, hungry, silent. There is no laughter among
them.

_February 12._--The enemy have done a courteous, kindly thing in
allowing Mrs. Doveton, whose husband lies wounded and dying at Intombi,
to pass through their lines. Not only so, but the General placed an
ambulance-cart at her disposal, with an escort, from whom she received
every mark of respectful sympathy. Yet Major Doveton was well known as
one of their most strenuous opponents, a prominent member of the Reform
Committee, and a leader who has played his part manfully in every fight
where the Imperial Light Horse has been engaged. He was badly wounded
among the band of heroes who held Waggon Hill.

_February 13._--Good news at last. It comes by heliograph, telling us
that Lord Roberts has entered the Free State with a large force, mainly
of mounted troops and artillery, wherewith he hoped to relieve the
pressure round Ladysmith in a few days.

This afternoon I paid a visit to Brigadier-General Hamilton in his tent
beside the Manchesters on Cæsar's Camp. Through all the glorious history
of their services in Flanders, the Peninsula, the Crimea, or
Afghanistan, men of the gallant 63rd have never done harder work than on
breezy Bester's Ridge, where they have furnished outposts and fatigue
parties every day for four weary months. Is it any wonder that they are
the raggedest, most weather-stained, and most unkempt crowd who ever
played the part of soldiers? There is not a whole shoe or a sound
garment among them. They are ill-fed and overworked, yet they go to an
extra duty cheerfully, knowing that their General has faith in their
watchfulness and grit. All honour to them! Like "the dirty half-hundred"
of Peninsular fame, they have been too busy to have time for washing and
mending.

Kaffirs report that the Free State Boers are all trekking towards Van
Reenan's.

     This native report, true or false, marked the beginnings of a
     renewed hope that was not again to suffer defeat, but was now
     quickly to grow into the substantial expectation and the certainty
     of relief. Lord Roberts was already across the borders of the Free
     State, and simultaneously Sir Redvers Buller was preparing for his
     last attempt to roll back the burghers from the Tugela, and to
     break down the barrier so long maintained between his army and
     Ladysmith. His operations during the week following were watched
     with intense anxiety, but with growing confidence. On 20th February
     Mr. Pearse wrote the  following:--

For a whole week daily we have heard the roar of artillery southward and
westward along the Tugela, seen Lyddite shells bursting on Boer
positions, and watched the signs of battle, from which we gather hope
that slowly but surely Buller's army is drawing nearer to us, though by
a different and harder road from the one it tried last. We know that for
a whole week on end those troops have been fighting their way against
entrenched positions that might baulk the bravest soldiers, and still
the roar of battle rolls our way, until between the muffled boom of
heavy guns we can hear faintly the pulse-like throb of rifle volleys.

Amid all this strain, intent upon vital issues, one hardly takes note of
trivialities. Even the daily bombardment seems of little importance, and
nobody cares how many shots "Puffing Billy" fired yesterday. For me the
strain is tightened by news heliographed this morning that another son
has come round from Bulawayo and joined the relieving force as a
lieutenant of Thorneycroft's Mounted Infantry. I don't know whether
pride or anxiety is paramount when I think of these two boys fighting
their way towards me. Both are with Lord Dundonald's Irregular Horse, of
which we have heard much from Kaffirs, who tell us that Thorneycroft's
Rifles and the "Sakkabulu boys," who are now identified as the South
African Light Horse, have been in the front of every fight. It may seem
egotistical to let this personal note stand, but I take the incident to
be an illustration of the spirit that animates English youth at this
moment.

On Saturday (February 17) the artillery fire sounded far off on the
other side of the Tugela. Next morning we could see shells bursting
along the nearer crest of Monte Cristo, and up to eleven o'clock the
fierce cannonade was ceaseless. How the action had ended we could only
judge by Boer movements. From Observation Hill I saw their ambulance
waggons trekking heavy across the plain behind Rifleman's Ridge, then a
bigger waggon, uncovered, drawn by a large span of oxen. There may have
been a long gun in that waggon, its movements were so slow and
cumbersome. Two ambulance waggons passed in the opposite direction,
light and moving at a gallop.

Yesterday came news of General Buller's success in the capture of
Cingolo Hill, but before it was signalled we had seen from Cæsar's Camp
British infantry crowning the nearer ridge of Monte Cristo. They came up
in column, and deployed with a steadiness that showed them to be masters
of the position. In the evening I met Sir George White, who told me that
he believed Sir Redvers had gained another success. To-day, again,
shells from the southern guns have been bursting about ridges south of
Cæsar's Camp, where the Boers are still in force. This afternoon, and
well on to evening, we could hear the busy hum of field guns in action
firing very rapidly, as if a fresh attack were about to develop. Sir
Redvers is evidently resolved not to give the enemy any rest or time for
fortifying other positions.

     The above was written on 20th February. General Buller had captured
     Hlangwane Hill, the real key of the enemy's position, and on the
     following day the whole of Warren's Division crossed the Tugela by
     a pontoon bridge thrown across by the Royal Engineers. The
     significance of the fact was at once recognised at Ladysmith, and
     that day saw the last of the hated horse-flesh ration. Events were
     now moving fast. The Boers were preparing for flight, hope began to
     beat high in the town, and already the memory of past sufferings
     and the irk of those still being borne seemed little in the light
     of oncoming deliverance. Mr. Pearse's notes at this last stage in
     the long stand for the Empire are interesting  reading:--

_February 22._--Trivialities are supreme after all. Yesterday we were
all more jubilant at the announcement that horse-flesh would not be
issued as rations again than on the score of General Buller's signal
telling us he had driven the Boers from all their positions across the
Tugela. To-day soldiers greeted each other with a cheery "'Ave you 'eard
the noos? They say there'll be full rations to-day." An extra half-pound
of meat, five biscuits instead of one and a quarter, and a few
additional ounces of mealie meal, were more to them at that moment than
a British victory.

_February 23._--For several days past the naval 12-pounder on Cæsar's
Camp has shelled Boers at work on the dam below Intombi Camp, causing
much consternation. One result of this is that Bulwaan tries to keep
down the 12-pounder's fire and leaves the town in comparative quiet.
This afternoon there was another surprise for the Boers. "Lady Anne,"
one of the big twin sisters of the naval armament to which we owe so
much, had not fired for just a month until she astonished the gunners on
Bulwaan by planting a shell in their works to-day. They ran in all
directions, not knowing where to hide, and at the second shot bolted
back across the hill. Their tents have disappeared from Bulwaan now.
To-day a Boer, or rather a German fighting for the Boers, was caught by
our patrols. He had a rifle, a bandolier, pockets full of cartridges,
and a red-cross badge, concealed, but ready for use when fighting might
be inconvenient.

_February 26._--Yesterday numbers of Boers were seen retiring from
Pieter's Station across the ridges towards Bester's Valley, but no sign
of a general retreat yet beyond the report of scouts, who say that
several guns have been seen going back at a gallop behind Bulwaan,
followed by nearly two hundred waggons. Last night we heard rifle-firing
on the ridges south of Cæsar's Camp and Waggon Hill. It sounded so near
that for a time we thought our own outposts were engaged with the enemy.
Kaffirs say this was a Boer attack on Pieter's Station, but their story
is not confirmed. General Buller heliographs that he is still going
strong, but the country is difficult and progress slow. Lord Roberts,
according to another helio-signal, has Cronje surrounded. Two attempts
to relieve him have been frustrated. All this puts new life into the
garrison here. A newspaper telegram was also heliographed announcing
that Cronje had surrendered with 6000 men, after losing 1700 killed and
wounded. This is probably a bit of journalistic enterprise in
anticipation of events.

_February 27._--Majuba Day. We expected the Boers to celebrate it at
daybreak or before by a salute of shotted guns, but they are silent,
apparently watching as we watch, and awaiting the issue of events
elsewhere. We know that a fierce fight is raging not twelve miles
distant. The thuds of big guns are frequent, we hear the booming of
field artillery in salvos, and the shrill ripple of rifles is almost
incessant. But our view is narrowed by hills, and we can only see shells
bursting on the crests of Grobelaar's Kloof and about flat-topped Table
Hill. From their commanding position on Bulwaan the Boers can overlook
Pieter's Station to the earthworks that girdle Grobelaar's Kloof, and
part of the road by which our troops must advance from Colenso if they
advance at all. Noon passed without any Majuba Day salute, but an hour
later Bulwaan battery fired twelve shots up Bester's Valley at cattle
and men cutting grass, then turned to shell Cove Ridge and Observation
Hill, on which one of Captain Christie's howitzers had been mounted
during the night. Thus they made up a salute of twenty-one guns.
"Puffing Billy" seemed bent on showing what he could do. Three shells
burst near where I stood, on the extreme western shoulder of Observation
Hill, just missing the howitzer, and one went far beyond the longest
range yet reached by any of the enemy's Creusots. For a long time I
watched Boer movements, and saw their waggons hurrying back in some
confusion from the Helpmakaar road across Conrad Pieter's farm towards
Elandslaagte.

At night came a signal from General Buller, "Doing well," followed by a
longer message announcing that Cronje was a prisoner in Lord Roberts's
camp, having surrendered with all his army unconditionally this morning.
Hurrahs are ringing through every camp at this news. Majuba Day has
brought glad tidings to us after all!

_February 28._--The fortune of war is on our side now. Every sign points
to that conclusion. Ladysmith was alarmed soon after midnight by what
seemed to civilians the beginning of another attack. Rifles rang out
sharply round the whole of our positions. The furious outburst began on
Gun Hill. Surprise Hill took it up. It ran along the dongas in which
Boer pickets lie hidden, and was carried on to the south beyond Bester's
Valley. Our troops did not fire a shot, but still the fusillade
continued for half an hour. The Boers were evidently in a state of
nervous excitement, brought on by nothing more formidable than twelve
men of the Gloucesters who, under Lieutenant Thesbit, had gone out to
destroy a laager at the foot of Limit Hill. This incident showed clearly
enough that no news had come from Colenso to give our enemies
confidence. Few of us, however, were prepared for the sight that met our
eyes as we looked from Observation Hill across the broad plain towards
Blaauwbank when the mists of morning cleared. There we saw Boer convoys
trekking northward from the Tugela past Spion Kop in columns miles long.
Others emerged from the defile by Underbrook like huge serpents twining
about the hillsides. Waggons were crowded together by hundreds. If one
could not go fast enough it had to fall out of the road, making way for
others. Above them hung dense dust clouds. Elsewhere in the open, dust
whirled in thinner, higher wreaths above groups of horsemen hurrying off
in confusion, and paying no heed to the straits of their transport. A
beaten army in full retreat if I have ever seen one! Still people
doubted and grew uneasy, because of General Buller's silence. Bulwaan
fired a single shot by way of parting salute, and then a tripod was
rigged up for lifting "Puffing Billy" from his carriage. It was a bold
thing to do in broad daylight, and our naval 12-pounders made short work
of it by battering the tripod over. After that a steady fire was kept up
on the battery to prevent, if possible, the Boers from moving their
guns.

Afternoon sunshine enabled General Buller to heliograph the reassuring
message for which Ladysmith had been waiting so anxiously. He said: "I
beat the enemy thoroughly yesterday, and am sending my cavalry on as
fast as very bad roads will admit to ascertain where they are going. I
believe the enemy to be in full retreat."

     It was even so. General Buller and his gallant army, by dint of
     heroic qualities, with an unshakable determination which faltered
     before nothing; with a patient endurance which bore all things
     unmurmuringly; with a sublime courage face to face with the enemy
     which has earned them the often unwilling praise of the world, had
     overcome at last. On the night of 28th February, when the above
     note was written, the head of the relief column, under Lord
     Dundonald, arrived in the town.



CHAPTER XIII

RELIEF AT LAST

     The beginning of the end--Buller's last advance--Heroic
     Inniskillings--The coming of Dundonald--A welcome at Klip River
     Drift--A weather-stained horseman--The Natal troopers--Cheers and
     tears--A grand old General--Sir George White's address--"Thank God,
     we have kept the flag flying!"--"God save the Queen"--Arrival of
     Buller--Looking backward--Within four days of
     starvation--Horseflesh a mere memory--Eight hundred sick and
     wounded--A word in tribute--Conclusion.


     The beginning of the end had come on 13th February, when General
     Buller's army of relief had opened the attack on Hussar Hill. From
     that day fighting had been fierce and practically continuous, the
     enemy giving way only after the most stubborn resistance, and
     taking advantage of every opportunity to make a stand. During that
     fortnight over 2000 officers and men of General Buller's force paid
     the price of their dauntless courage; and in all the glorious story
     no page is brighter than that which puts on undying record the
     devoted gallantry of the Inniskillings, who were, to all practical
     intents, wiped out in attacking Pieter's Hill, the last bar across
     the road to Ladysmith, on the 23rd. Wounded and dying and dead lay
     out together uncomforted, uncared for throughout the long hours of
     Saturday until Sunday morning, when a truce was agreed to. Still
     the hill was not won, and was to be held by the enemy until the
     27th, the nineteenth anniversary of Majuba, a day no longer to be
     held in shameful memory. On the following day the Boers were in
     full retreat; and Lord Dundonald, with a small body of mounted
     troops, made a dash across the hills to Ladysmith. Their coming was
     hailed by the long-isolated town with the wildest outbursts of
     delight. Its effect is graphically suggested by Mr. Pearse in a
     number of jottings in his diary on the same  night:--

As night closes in there are cheers rolling towards us from the plain
beyond Klip River, where our volunteers are on patrol. Ladysmith, so
quiet and undemonstrative in its patient endurance of a long siege, goes
wild at the sound. Everybody divines its meaning. Our friends from the
victorious army of the south are coming! All the town rushes out to meet
them, where they must cross a drift. The voices of strong men break into
childish treble as they try to cheer, women laugh and cry by turns, and
all crowd about the troopers of Lord Dundonald's escort, giving them
such a welcome as few victors from the battlefield have ever known. The
hour of our deliverance has come. After a hundred and twenty-two days of
bombardment--a hundred and nineteen of close investment--the Siege of
Ladysmith is at an end. What a hero our gallant old General is to all of
us, when he rides forward to greet Lord Dundonald, and how voices
tremble with deep thankfulness while we sing "God Save the Queen"!

     In a letter written on the following day, Mr. Pearse describes in
     greater detail the arrival of relief, and summarises his
     impressions at the  time:--

LADYSMITH, _March 1._--The relieving force joined hands with us last
night, and Ladysmith gave itself away to an outburst of wild enthusiasm
at the sight of troops so long expected and so often heard fighting in
the distance, that some despondent people had almost begun to think they
would never come. After the roar of battle ceased on Tuesday, we knew by
signs that could not be mistaken that Sir Redvers Buller had gained a
great victory even before the heliograph flashed to us the glad tidings
in his own words. I had come to the conclusion, watching from
Observation Hill, soon after daybreak on Wednesday morning, and seeing
the enemy's convoys in three columns, miles long, trekking northwards,
that they were in full retreat. Their guns were hurrying to the rear
also, and horsemen in scattered groups, to the number of thousands, were
galloping past positions on which some stand might still have been made,
a sure sign that they were beaten and did not mean to rally. But the
best indication of all was the attempt to remove the big gun from
Bulwaan that has shelled us persistently and destructively for a hundred
and twelve days, causing us much anxiety but comparatively small loss of
life. Our artillery of the Naval Brigade, to which Ladysmith owes a deep
debt of gratitude, tried to prevent the guns from being carried off, but
apparently their admirably aimed and accurate fire was too late to
effect that object.

Just before nightfall Sir Redvers Buller's cavalry were reported in
sight. The first token of their coming were loud cheers away on the
plain towards Intombi neutral camp, where some of Colonel Dartnell's
Frontier Police, with Border Mounted Rifles and Natal Carbineers, had
been patrolling since early morning. With joy on their faces, and many
with tears in their eyes, the people rushed towards a drift by which the
Klip River must be crossed. There General Brocklehurst was waiting, and
as a horseman, weather-stained and begrimed by days of bivouacking,
floundered from deep water on to the slippery bank, he was received with
a hearty hand-grip and welcomed to Ladysmith. Then loud cheers went up
for Lord Dundonald, commander of the Second Cavalry Brigade, whose
irregular horsemen have made for themselves a great name as scouts. We
have often heard from Kaffirs about ubiquitous troopers who were
described as wearing sakkabulu feathers in their hats and carrying
assegais. We were all anxious to see these men, and I especially had
often looked out for them, since some one had told me that they were the
South African Light Horse, in which, as I think I have mentioned
elsewhere, a son of mine commands a troop. We had heard of them and
Thorneycroft's Mounted Infantry in the thick of the fight at Spion Kop,
and in many other affairs, but only one came with Lord Dundonald and
the advance guard, in which were Imperial Light Horse, Carbineers, Natal
Police of the Frontier Field Force, and Border Mounted Rifles, numbering
only one hundred and seventy, under Major Mackenzie. They had pushed
forward after the last feeble resistance of the Boer rearguard was
overcome, and Lord Dundonald brought to Sir George White the good news
that Ladysmith's relief was accomplished.

The crowd of soldiers and civilians shouted itself hoarse in cheering
Sir George White when he came with the object of meeting Lord Dundonald.
He could not get through this crowd outside the gaol, where Boer
prisoners were standing on the balcony curious to know what all this
commotion might mean. When a lull gave him an opportunity of speaking,
he said in a voice trembling with emotion, but clear and soldierly for
all that:--

"I thank you men, one and all, from the bottom of my heart, for the help
and support you have given to me, and I shall always acknowledge it to
the end of my life. It grieved me to have to cut your rations, but I
promise you that I will not do it again. I thank God we have kept the
flag flying."

Three cheers were given for Sir Redvers Buller and General Sir Archibald
Hunter, and then the whole crowd joined in singing "God Save the Queen,"
with an effect that was strangely impressive in the circumstances. This
morning, after a reconnaissance had been sent out to watch the enemy's
retirement, and if possible intercept convoys, Sir Redvers Buller with
his staff rode into town and met Sir George White before any
demonstration could be made in his honour, and after remaining at
headquarters a short time only, he rode back to camp, or rather bivouac,
with the troops who had fought so heroically under him for the honour of
England.

Only those who have been under siege and so closely invested that all
communications with the outer world, except through Kaffir runners, were
cut off for 119 days, can imagine what the first sight of a relieving
column means to the beleaguered garrison. Happily such experiences have
been rare in the history of British campaigns, and nobody here would
care to repeat them, though all are proud enough now of having seen it
through. Those who went away while they had a chance in the first rush
for safety, when shells began to burst in the town, may claim credit for
foresight, but we do not envy them. All hardships, dangers, and
privations seem light now that they are things of the past. Our
enthusiasm in welcoming the first detachment of the relieving force has
swept away the impression of discomforts, and, for a time at least,
induced us to forget everything except the reflected honour that is ours
in having suffered with British troops.

     Relief had come none too soon. Mr. Pearse, who had weathered the
     storm unscathed and in good health, on 1st March stated in a
     telegram that when Lord Dundonald's troops arrived in the town only
     four days' full rations were available, and there were 800 sick and
     wounded in hospital, by far the larger proportion being down with
     dysentery and enteric fever. Truly it seemed that deliverance had
     come in the nick of time. "Thank God," Sir George White had said,
     "we have kept the flag flying." Thank God also that the brave
     defenders had been spared the worst horrors of a siege, and that
     help had not longer been withheld in their extremity. Only a
     concluding word remains to be said. On 6th February, when relief
     seemed imminent, Mr. Pearse wrote the following in his  diary:--

In this moment I want to place it on record how cordially we all
recognise the fact that Sir George White has done everything that an
able commander could do, not only for the defence of a town whose
inhabitants are entrusted to his charge, but also for the larger issues
of a campaign that might have been seriously jeopardised by any false
move on his part. In many respects, when his critics, including myself,
thought he lacked the enterprise of a great leader, events have proved
that his more cautious course was right. If mistakes were made at the
outset they have been nobly atoned for.

     All who have so far followed Mr. Pearse through his brilliant pages
     will acclaim his words. Such a commander was worthy of such troops,
     and they no less worthy. During the whole dreary four months of the
     siege they had proved themselves men in whom any General in the
     world and any people might feel an exultant pride. In long days of
     wearisome monotony, broken only by the scream and thud and burst of
     shells, at noon beneath the fierce glow of the African sun, at
     night in the sodden trenches, in season and out, they had been
     patient, vigilant, ready, bearing all things, braving all things,
     hoping all things and always. In the midnight attack through dark
     defiles and over rugged heights, where the broken boulders made
     every step a toil and a danger, they trod with a grim tenacity of
     purpose, and struck with a daring that wrested a tribute from the
     unaccustomed lips of their enemy. On the rocky ridges of Waggon
     Hill and Cæsar's Camp, when the burghers in one supreme effort
     dashed against them the pick and pride of the commandos, they
     fought through the hours of night till dawn gave place to day, and
     the daylight waxed and waned, with a dogged, half-despairing
     courage that laughed to scorn even the regardless valour of a
     worthy foeman. Who shall do justice to soldiers like these?
     Wherever, and as long as, the fame of the British arms is
     cherished, so long, and as widely, will the story of the defence of
     Ladysmith be held in glorious memory.



THE END


_Printed by_ R. & R. CLARK, LIMITED, _Edinburgh_


[Illustration: MILITARY MAP OF LADYSMITH]





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